REPORT FROM HAYDEN PADDON
We have made it to the end of a very difficult day – one full of drama, as we only completed one of today’s eight stages without a problem.
Our morning got off to a heart stopping start, when only 2km into the first stage after rounding a flat 140kmph blind corner, we found a slow moving FIV (safety vehicle) vehicle travelling the same direction as us in the middle of the road. We had never been told of anything in the stage, or of any accidents, so it was a complete surprise. We were never going to stop in time, so veered up the bank on the right, only to find as we veered up the bank so did the FIV. How we ever missed him and did not claim a tree on the side of the road is beyond me! We carried on, though a little rattled!
The next stage we continued to struggle with set-up issues on the car. It was unlike any car I have driven and I could not make it do anything that I wanted it to. On this stage one of our main rivals, Toshi Arai, had crashed, so we moved up to second in PWRC behind Patrick Flodin.
At service we made numerous changes to the car, including springs, chassis adjustments and diff maps. It transformed the car into a one that was to my liking and I was at last able to build up some confidence. However, the repeated afternoon stages were so rough and unlike anything I have seen so far in my rallying. The surface is very soft and sandy, and the wheel ruts were deeper than the side sills of the car. We spent a lot of time bottoming out, with the front of the car scooping dirt and dust into the cockpit via the roof vent.
The rough conditions broke our front suspension on the second stage of the group, so we decided to nurse the car through the final stages to service, without inflicting further damage. We have lost a lot of time today, but still sit in 2nd place in PWRC, so the target tomorrow is to build on our speed and to hold onto 2nd.
All in all it has been a tough day at the office, but we are in a good position. Hopefully tomorrow goes a little better, but we will have to target the first pass of the stages, while they are smoother, as the rough repeated runs are somewhere you don’t want to be chasing time. Until tomorrow;
WRC REPORT: Sweden’s Patrik Flodin has built a comfortable two-minute lead in the Production Car World Rally Championship after the opening day of Rally Japan.
Flodin is bidding to return to the lead of the P-WRC and victory in Japan would be enough to push him ahead of defending champion, Mitsubishi driver Armindo Araujo, who has chosen to skip this round.
Flodin’s task was made slightly easier on the second stage this morning when Toshi Arai crashed out of the rally. Flodin then reeled off the fastest times to build a lead of two minutes over second placed man Hayden Paddon.
Arai led from the start and pulled 11.3 seconds out of everybody on the 27-kilometre Iwanke stage, the event’s first significant test. Unfortunately for the double Production Car champion, everything went wrong on a series of three jumps in a fast section of the Sikot stage. The car landed awkwardly after the second jump and turned into the trees at high speed. The Impreza collided with a tree and rolled three times. Both crew emerged unscathed but Arai went to hospital for a back x-ray, but was discharged earlier this evening.
After tweaking his Impreza’s suspension after the first stage, Flodin settled into a day of driving sensibly. He’d taken 28.6 seconds out of Paddon in SS3 and then cemented that lead by taking more than half a minute out of the rest of the field in the next stage. “It’s been a good day,” said the leader. “The car is driving nicely now and we have a big lead. The tough part is keeping the lead for the next two days. But today has been okay.”
Paddon was pleased with second place on his first trip to Japan, although he admitted the soft surface was causing him some concerns. “The ruts make it quite difficult,” he said. “The car moves around a lot in them, but we’ve made some changes to the car and that seems to work. I need to keep this position until the finish, this would be good for the championship for me.”
While Paddon might not have rated his chances of catching or troubling Flodin, he was three times as safe from the cars chasing him – he held a six-minute lead over the third placed driver Paulo Nobre. There was no such luxury for Brazilian Nobre as his Mitsubishi was being harried by the similar motor of former Champ Car race winner Michael Jourdain, who admitted he’d struggled through the day.
Subaru’s Gianluca Linari was fifth and equally troubled by the Hokkaido roads. “The special stages have been very tough for me,” he said.
Of the two drivers, only Flodin could take the outright lead in P-WRC while Paddon would have to win and outscore Flodin to join Araujo on 83 points.
“The tough part is keeping the lead for the next two days. But today has been okay”