Hyundai third driver Hayden Paddon leads Rally Italia Sardegna following Friday morning's opening loop, which saw Andreas Mikkelsen, Robert Kubica and Kris Meeke all fall by the wayside.
Paddon, who was ninth quickest on Thursday evening in the short 2.50km Citta Di Cagliari super special test, made the most of road position - he is eleventh in the order - and was quickest in SS2, SS3 and SS4. He then set the fifth best time in the 2.58km Sagama super special to head into the 30-minute mid-day halt in Alghero with a 23-second buffer over his nearest rival.
“Leading the rally is amazing,” said Paddon, who now becomes the first Kiwi to lead a WRC event outside New Zealand. “It more than what we planned for this morning. This afternoon will be more difficult in the rougher conditions, but we'll see what we can do. We will need to look after the car but we want to win more stages.”
“The new paddle-shift on my car makes a big difference on these stages,” he added after SS4. “The first stage win was a surprise, [but] now we're just trying to make the most of our road position advantage and of the tyre choice.
“I am very happy. I am trying to drive the car differently, the roads are quite narrow. I try to keep it in the middle.”
He did, however, reveal that he had a bit of a scare in the first test of the day: “We were lucky! We hit a massive rock that pitched us up in the air,” he confirmed.
“I put two soft tyres on the rear and two hards on the front [for SS2]. I have never driven the car like this before but it felt good. What a surprise!”
Meanwhile, Jari-Matti Latvala lies second for Volkswagen, 2.1 seconds up on team-mate and Championship leader, Sebastien Ogier, who despite running first on the road and acting as the principal road sweeper, remains very much in contention, posting top-three times in three of the four stages.
"Unfortunately there wasn't quite enough rain for me this morning,” Ogier said, “but I have to be happy with what we have achieved and the tyre strategy.”
Behind, Dani Sordo is fourth in his Hyundai i20 WRC, 9.9 seconds off Ogier and 4 seconds up on team-mate, Thierry Neuville, who suffered a spin in SS4, but was still second quickest.
“I had to drive the last stage with a punctured tyre so I'm relieved to get to the end of this one [SS5]. We should be fine getting back to service,” Neuville remarked. “I am happy I found a good feeling with the car, which is important. I enjoy it more now - let's hope we continue like this.”
“I tried to be a little closer, but here [SS5] we lost 1.6sec in just a couple of kilometres,” Sordo added. “We can do better. This one has been a tricky stage. The morning has gone OK but it can be better.”
Ott Tanak completes the top-six in his M-Sport-run Fiesta RS WRC, with overnight leader and fellow Ford runner, Martin Prokop now seventh and Citroen's Mads Ostberg eighth after losing over 50 seconds in SS4.
"We hit some rocks on a narrow part,” Ostberg explained. “I made a mistake in a right-hand corner and spun. Then we caught Andreas [Mikkelsen] - he was going slowly down the road."
"It's been a really difficult morning for us," Tanak added. "We've been struggling to find rhythm in the notes, but it's the first time for Raigo [Molder, co-driver] with a world rally car in Sardinia which really is not easy.
“I feel like we've been fighting through the stages, but we are here and that is the most important thing. We have to look to find a solution this afternoon. It's such a tricky event with something happening all of the time; it might just take us a little time to get comfortable and fully up to full speed.”
Of the rest, WRC2 class leader Paolo Andreucci holds ninth, 3.8 seconds ahead of Esapekka Lappi in P10 (and second in WRC2), while Lorenzo Bertelli, Jan Kopecky, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Armin Kremer fill positions 11 through to 14.
M-Sport's Elfyn Evans is down in 17th having lost time with transmission problems in SS3, SS4 and SS5, while Citroen third driver Khalid Al Qassimi also had a morning to forget. He had to drive SS2 in road mode, and then lost his brakes in SS3 and had to do 13km on a flat tyre.
They did at least get through the loop though, unlike Mikkelsen, Kubica and Meeke. Meeke was the first casualty of the day, retiring 9 or so kilometres into SS2, when he damaged the suspension on his Citroen DS 3 WRC. Kubica then joined him on the sidelines, 8km into the following test, when he missed his braking and went off the road, while VW II pilot Mikkelsen went out after breaking the right rear suspension when he hit a hole in SS4. He did limp to the end of that stage, but then retired for the day on the road section.
The event now continues this afternoon, which includes repeat-runs through all four of this morning's tests and a run through the 14.08km Sinis-Mont'e Prama stage (SS7). SS6, the repeat-run through the short 2.58km Sagama super special, is scheduled to start at 14.48 hours local time. Full itinerary for round six in WRC 2015 available - HERE
2015 Rally Italia Sardegna: Overall standings after Stage 5 (Top 10):
1. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC 46m 30.9s
2. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +0m 23.0s
3. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +0m 25.1s
4. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +0m 35.0s
5. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +0m 39.0s
6. Ott Tanak
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +0m 41.4s
7. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 12.4s
8. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +1m 29.2s
9. Paolo Andreucci
Peugeot 208 T16 +1m 44.2
10. Esapekka Lappi
Skoda Fabia R5 +1m 48.0s
11. Lorenzo Bertelli
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2m 07.1s
12. Jan Kopecky
Skoda Fabia R5 +2m 28.9s
13. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Ford Fiesta RRC +2m 37.2s
14. Armin Kremer
Skoda Fabia R5 +2m 43.6s
15. Yazeed Al-Rajhi
Ford Fiesta RRC +2m 51.1s
17. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 20.4s
WRC2 standings after Stage 5 (Top 3):
1. Paolo Andreucci
Peugeot 208 T16 48m 45.1
2. Esapekka Lappi
Skoda Fabia R5 +0m 03.8s
3. Jan Kopecky
Skoda Fabia R5 +0m 44.7s
SS2. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC Suspension
SS3. Robert Kubica
Ford Fiesta RS WRC Accident
SS4/SS5. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC Suspension
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial