New Zealand driver Hayden Paddon has scored an historic maiden FIA World Rally Championship victory at YPF Rally Argentina after fighting off world champion Sébastien Ogier in a thrilling finale to a scintillating last-day duel.
The pair was separated by just 2.6 sec ahead of the final legendary El Condor speed test, but Paddon stunned the Frenchman to hurtle down the rock-strewn mountain almost 12 sec faster and secure a 14.3 sec winning margin in his Hyundai i20 at the finish in Villa Carlos Paz on Sunday afternoon, local time. Paddon, with longtime co-driver John Kennard, became the first driver from New Zealand – or anywhere Down Under - to win a WRC round in the championship’s 43-year history. It crushed Volkswagen’s ambitions of s an unprecedented 13 consecutive victories and, for another year, Ogier’s personal goal of winning the only WRC event not in his trophy cabinet.
The win was one of the most popular in recent times for the hard-working Paddon, who is driving only his first full season for Hyundai Motorsport.
“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, who celebrated his 29th birthday the day before the start. 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.”
While Paddon’s home supporters were jubilant, the win was welcomed also by fans in Australia, which will host the closing round of the 2016 WRC, Kennards Hire Rally Australia, on the New South Wales Coffs Coast on 17-20 November.
“This is a milestone for rallying in our part of the world and I’m sure everyone in the sport in Australia congratulates Hayden and John on their maiden WRC victory after many years’ building their experience and their support,” Rally Australia Clerk of Course Wayne Kenny said. They have a great record in Rally Australia, including as privateers winning the Pirelli Star Driver Shootout in 2009, the Production World Rally Championship in 2011 and for Hyundai, 6th in 2014 and 5th in 2015. Hayden has said in the past a win here would come close to a home victory; let’s hope they can do it next November!”
Paddon started the final leg with a 29.8 sec advantage after taking the lead on Saturday when Jari-Matti Latvala crashed. Gearchange glitches cost valuable seconds in the opening speed test before Ogier in a Volkswagen Polo R threw caution to the wind in the penultimate stage, eating into Paddon’s lead to set up a dramatic ending.
“The last stage was incredibly rough,” Ogier said. "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.”
Volkswagen teammate Andreas Mikkelsen completed the podium a further 50.9sec behind after surviving a spin in the foggy first pass through El Condor in the morning. However, he dropped out of the top three in the championship standings as Paddon vaulted into second. Dani Sordo finished 11.9sec further back in fourth in another Hyundai with Mads Østberg a distant fifth in a Ford Fiesta RS, despite going off the road on Sunday morning following a pace note mix-up. The top six in the four-day rally, which covered 364.68km of rough-road competition near Villa Carlos Paz, was completed in the third factory Hyundai by Thierry Neuville, who recovered well after losing several minutes on Friday with a faulty fuel connection.
The championship returns to Europe for Vodafone Rally de Portugal on 19 -22 May. The event will see the 2016 debut of an Australian team, when Scott Pedder and Dale Moscatt line up for the WRC2 category in a Skoda Fabia R5.
Results, YPF Rally Argentina (Rd 4 of 14);
- H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC)
- S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +14.3 behind first
- A. Mikkelsen / A. Jaeger (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:05.2
- D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:17.1
- M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:56.7
- T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +9:29.5
- M. Ligato / R. Garcia (Citroën DS3 WRC) +9:39.2
- E. Camilli / B. Veillas (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +10:16.0
- H. Solberg / I. Minor (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +10:48.5
- N. Fuchs / F. Mussano (Škoda Fabia R5) +24:42.8