In 2015, Rally Argentina produced a new FIA World Rally Championship winner when Kris Meeke held on for victory, in 2016 the rally world would be welcoming another driver to the exclusive winners club when Hayden Paddon beat Sébastien Ogier on the final day.
Following a action packed second day of action in Argentina, which saw rally leader Jari-Matti Latvala crash out spectacularly, New Zealander Paddon got down to business, starting the final day 29.8 seconds ahead of reigning World Champion Ogier, with Andreas Mikkelsen another 14.5 seconds behind.
The day opened with the 16.32km El Condor – Copina stage and thick fog greeted competitors and fans who had been camping out in the mountains to catch a glimpse of their rally heroes. Ott Tänak topped the times in his DMACK Ford Fiesta RS on this stage as he fearlessly fought through the tricky conditions; rally leader Paddon finished in the stage in fourth place, losing 7.4 seconds to to the second placed Ogier.
SS17 would be a tough one for Paddon as his Hyundai i20 started to suffer gear change problems, the Kiwi battled on to finish the stage in third place, but Ogier was supreme on the 22.64km test and brought the gap between the pair down to 2.6 seconds for the final stage.
The Power Stage would see another run through the El Condor – Copina test and this time the weather conditions were a lot better, as the times tumbled with the leaders coming through, Ogier set a time of thirteen minutes 19.7 seconds, had the Frenchman done enough? No he hadn’t! Paddon finished the stage with a stunning time of thirteen minutes 8 seconds as he took the extra Power Stage victory and secured his first ever win in WRC, and also the first ever win for a New Zealander.
“I can’t believe it, I really didn’t think I stood a chance before the last stage after losing time to Ogier this morning,” said Paddon. “I gave that last stage everything I had. Tight and twisty roads like El Condor aren’t my strength but I drove the stage of my life.”
Volkswagen Motorsport’s dreams of a thirteenth consecutive victory and Ogier’s first Rally Argentina win were shattered, “The last stage was incredibly rough,” said Ogier. “I had a clean drive but I didn’t dare take the maximum risk because there were big ruts. Well done to him, he did a great job on the last stage.”
Andreas Mikkelsen brought his Volkswagen Polo R home in third place, a further 50.9 seconds behind after losing time in the opening test of the day with a spin through the foggy El Condor stage. With Paddon taking victory, the Kiwi leap-frogged Mikkelsen and Mads Østberg in the championship standings. Dani Sordo secured fourth place in the rally, ahead of an off-form Østberg in fifth place.
Thierry Neuville salvaged sixth pace after losing time on Friday with a faulty fuel connection while local driver Marcos Ligato secured a seventh place finish, ahead of Eric Camilli, Henning Solberg and WRC2 winner Nicholás Fuchs.
WRC returns to action in four weeks time as the cars head back to Europe for the Vodafone Rally de Portugal on 19-22 May.