Paddon leads after dramatic basketball court stage

The ERC points leader set the pace by 0.4s, but there were problems for plenty of others

FIA European Rally Championship 2023 Stop 2 – Canaries, Spain

European Rally Championship leader Hayden Paddon leads Rally Islas Canarias after Thursday night’s opening basketball court stage.

The rally’s first test, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, was just 1.1 miles long and completely unlike the stages that are to come on Friday and Saturday as it ran around the perimeter roads – and even inside – the local basketball stadium.

But it packed a punch, as qualifying pacesetter José Antonio Suárez proved by making a mess of the compulsory donut on the basketball court and then another donut later on.

However the Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 driver plead his innocence.

“The problem is not my driving,” he said, “there is something broken, like a driveshaft or something.

“I cannot turn the car, I cannot drive the car. It’s better it happens today, we will see for tomorrow.”

Suárez lost 11 seconds to lie well outside the top 20.

FIA European Rally Championship 2023 Stop 2 - Canaries, Spain

There were no such concerns for Rally Serras de Fafe winner Paddon, though, who won the short stage by 0.4s over Andrea Nucita. Simon Wagner completes the early top three, 0.7s off the lead.

“We just tried to get it round neat and tidy and obviously in a stage like this you’ve just got to get the donuts bang on,” Paddon said.

“It’s actually quite an enjoyable stage. Slippery, but a good way to start the weekend.”

Czech driver Filip Mareš is fourth overnight, 1.2s off the lead but 0.2s clear of Grzegorz Grzyb who, in turn, is 0.2s ahead of Martin László.

Mads Østberg is seventh, 1.7s off the lead, and declared himself happier with his Citroën after struggling in qualifying.

“It was a good run, we did some major changes to the car after qualifying because I didn’t feel at home but to be honest I really enjoyed that!” Østberg explained.

“It’s nice to have that good feeling.”

FIA European Rally Championship 2023 Stop 2 - Canaries, Spain

Tom Kristensson is an early eighth, just 0.1s ahead of Simone Campedelli who was the first car onto the stage – and for a good while looked like he would end it fastest.

Yoann Bonato is seen by many as a favorite for victory this weekend, and he completes the early top 10 – 2.5s down on Paddon’s lead.

But the Frenchman was aware that the SS1 result meant little in terms of the competitive order for the rally ahead.

“This stage is very like the rest of the weekend, no?” he smiled.

“If we are fast here, maybe we can be fast tomorrow. But if we are slow, maybe we can be fast tomorrow as well!”

Mārtiņš Sesks displayed some strong judgement and car control to thread his Fabia RS Rally2 through the short stage, but he had to settle for 13th fastest time – 2.8s down on Paddon’s benchmark.

FIA European Rally Championship 2023 Stop 2 - Canaries, Spain

However the Latvian revealed at stage-end that he was late to the start of the stage, incurring himself a 10s penalty and thus dropping him even further down the leaderboard.

Óscar Palomo was another to suffer a lively start to his weekend as he clobbered some plastic barriers towards the end of the stage that disguised a kerb. Contact with the kerb damaged the rear-right suspension of the Spaniard’s Hyundai.

But that was nothing compared to what happened to fellow i20 N Rally2 pilot Philip Allen who careered into a solid stage-side kerb earlier on the stage and damaged both the front and rear left of his car.

Allen attempted to drive on but the damage proved too great for him to continue.