Paddon Leads After Close Opening Day in Italy

by Steven Batey

Hayden Paddon leads Rally Italia Sardegna at the end of the first full day of action as the top five drivers are separated by just 14.7 seconds.

The New Zealander leads despite having a broken damper on his Hyundai i20 ahead of teammate Thierry Neuville and M-Sport’s Ott Tänak in third.

After Neuville led overnight after the opening stage on Thursday evening, it was Kris Meeke who took the lead after the first stage on Friday morning and would battle with Juho Hanninen at the front of the field until stage five, where the Irishman rolled out of contention and let Paddon take control at the top of the standings.

Toyota driver Hanninen meanwhile lies in sixth at the end of day one after the Fin hit a wall and as well as losing time on the stage, also had a nervous drive back to service after the crash had damaged a radiator pipe on the Yaris WRC and is behind Mads Østberg who lies in fifth.

Second-placed Neuville crept up the leader board gradually throughout Friday’s eight stages and despite suffering two punctures will be happy with his position overnight.

Photo Credit: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Tänak meanwhile in third has had a solid start with no noticeable issues so far in the Ford Fiesta WRC and will be hoping to continue with this fine start, while JariMatti Latvila, who lies fourth going into the second full day of stages has also made a fine beginning to the event considering his start position.

World champion and championship leader Sebastian Ogier lies down in seventh, 41 seconds away from Paddon in first as the Frenchman struggled for grip throughout the day after being the opening car throughout the days stages.

Esapekka Lappi, the third Toyota driver is in eighth overall despite claiming three stage victories, his first at World level, on Friday after breaking a damper in the Yaris’ suspension. The young Fin will be hoping to claw back some of the 1 minute and 5 seconds he has lost because of the problem and continue to push at the sharp end of the field.

Andreas Mikkelsen, making his first top-class WRC start since the end of 2016 rounds out the 2017-spec field in ninth overall in the third works Citroen C3 WRC after struggling to get to grips with his new surroundings. The former VW man consistently had stalling issues throughout Friday.

Along with Meeke, three other drivers had issues over the eight stages. Elfyn Evans in the DMACK Fiesta retired after a crash on SS4, while Craig Breen suffered a leak in the gearbox of his C3 and Dani Sordo, another driver who started the day at the front of the field, lost over 11 minutes with turbo issues.

Photo Credit: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

WRC2 meanwhile sees Jan Kopecky leading by 52.7 seconds in a Skoda Fabia R5 ahead of Ole Christian Veiby and Takamoto Katsuta.

The WRC3 class is led by Nil Solans ahead of Terry Folb and Nicolas Ciamin, this trio also make up the top three positions in the JWRC class.

Finally the WRC trophy, open to older-spec WRC cars, is being led by Yazeed AlRajhi with Jean-Michel Raoux in second and Martin Prokop in third.

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