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A rally of what might have been is how Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon describes Rally de Portugal, which wrapped up on Sunday afternoon.

With new British co-driver Sebastian Marshall alongside for the first time at a World Rally Championship event, Paddon’s result way down the running order didn’t reflect the potential of the new pairing, which secured four stage wins. Paddon was also one of seven different drivers to lead the rally over the three-day, 19-stage itinerary.

At the conclusion of Sunday, Paddon said: “Certainly a rally of what might have been. While the results disappointing with the technical difficulties we had that cost us any chances, it’s still positive and pleasing to know we can be competitive. We had the speed here that we should have been fighting for the win, but nevertheless we were able to win some stages on day one and day three.”

Paddon first demonstrated his pace and determination with a second quickest time in Thursday’s rally-opening 3.36km super special. Then he took the overall rally lead by winning Friday’s first stage, but a small electrical problem on the morning loop cost him seven seconds on SS3. Midday service setup changes were also positive with Paddon saying everything was working really well in the car and he was happy with his tyre strategy on the tricky Portuguese sandy gravel roads.

Stage seven and: “We’d just taken the [stage] lead only for the car to stop with an electronic problem halfway through the stage. That puts paid to any result for this rally. It’s frustrating, it’s yet again a story of bad luck. We’re not quite sure what’s caused the problem, but the team will get it rectified.”

Paddon and Marshall were able to contest Friday evening’s two short super special stages with two top three times, but the time needed to service their Hyundai i20 Coupe world rally car – where the crew replaced the wiring loom – meant they restarted Saturday under Rally 2 regulations.

Running second on the road on Saturday meant the pair had the added complication of cleaning the stages, and they fought valiantly. But then, a steering rack failure in SS13 forced a premature retirement for the day.

Paddon commented: “What can I say? It just seems our bad luck continues. We started this morning’s loop in a positive frame of mind despite the issues we had yesterday. The team worked hard to replace the loom on the car to allow us to continue under Rally 2. We knew it would be tough as second on the road, but we were determined to push and have some fun. I enjoyed it!

“We had some good sideways moments and put on a good show for the fans. The times were never going to be representative with all the cleaning we had to do. Then, in the afternoon, our luck turned once again as we experienced a steering problem that ended the day early. Not a lot more to add, other than we’ll try to have a trouble-free final day tomorrow.”

On Sunday, Paddon and Marshall pushed to find some positives from Rally de Portugal, winning two of the rally’s final four stages.

Talking of the rally overall, Paddon said: “It’s good to get the confidence back; we’re enjoying things inside the car again and the car’s working for me. This is a big step forward as we move ahead for future gravel rallies. Everything in the car’s working really well. Seb did an amazing job in the car for the first time, absolutely faultless.

“This bodes well for the future. Not the result we wanted, but we know once our luck turns, once we can overcome some of these technical difficulties that the team are going to work hard to resolve, that we’ve got the package to put forward a good challenge to start trying to win some rallies in the very near future.”

Meanwhile Hyundai Motorsport secured their first-ever podium finish in Portugal – and made it a double – with Thierry Neuville taking second place, just 15.6s behind rally winner Sébastien Ogier, and Dani Sordo finishing third.

Paddon’s next World Rally Championship event with Hyundai Motorsport is on the Italian island of Sardinia 8-11 June.

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