Paddon grabs early Sardinia WRC lead, Meeke rolls

2017-06-09 16:08:44
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Hayden Paddon has taken the lead of Rally Italia in Sardinia after Friday's morning loop of stages, the New Zealand driver claiming the advantage after Kris Meeke rolled his C3 WRC into retirement. Back on form, Paddon sits 4.3 seconds ahead of lead Toyota driver Juho Hanninen, with Mads Ostberg third in a Fiesta WRC.

The seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship got underway last night in the tourist resort of Alghero and was immediately followed by a super special stage en route to the overnight halt in Olbia. Thierry Neuville took honors in the stage but it was Meeke who hit the front first thing this morning. The Northern Irishman then briefly lost out to Hanninen in the second stage before regaining his lead after the penultimate test of the loop. In SS5, however, the right rear of the C3 WRC clipped a bank, pitching it into a roll.

"Up to that point everything felt good," said Meeke. "I was settled – it felt OK, I wasn't trying to do anything silly. But yes, that's the way it is – not good enough."

While able to get back to service, Citroen then confirmed the roll cage was too damaged for the crew to continue.

Paddon, who feels back to his old self, therefore takes the advantage into the afternoon stages, but he is in the thick of a battle with both Hanninen and Ostberg, the trio split by just 4.4 seconds. Ott Tanak heads M-Sport's charge and the Estonian is another 10.3 seconds adrift but happy with his performance.

Neuville, fifth, suffered with hanging dust early this morning and then briefly went off in the second stage, losing around five seconds. His road position isn't helping his challenge but he remains in a battle with Jari-Matti Latvala, the rivals separated by only 2.2 seconds at the mid-leg service. The Finn lost some time this morning being over cautious but is ahead of Championship leader Sebastien Ogier, who admitted running first on the road had been tougher than expected.

Former Volkswagen driver Andreas Mikkelsen returns to the WRC with Citroen and the Norwegian holds eighth for the team. He is measuring his pace while learning the car in the heat of competition but is happy the feeling is getting better stage by stage. He is now the sole remaining runner for the French multiple world champions, Craig Breen having joined Meeke on the sidelines. The Irishman damaged the gearbox housing after landing heavily on the front end of the car and while he was able to continue, a loss of oil ultimately forced him out of the day.

Dani Sordo had been running as high as fifth until suffering an engine problem; he is now ninth with Esapekka Lappi 10th, the Finn setting his first-ever fastest time in a World Rally Car. Elfyn Evans also joined the list of retirees; he went off the road in SS4.

In the FIA WRC 2 Championship, Jan Kopecky heads the pack and is 24 seconds ahead of fellow Skoda driver Ole Christian Veiby. The fight in the Junior WRC Championship is intense, however, with Nil Solans leading Terry Folb by just 1.4 seconds.

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