Hayden Paddon, with co-driver John Kennard, has taken an unexpected but valuable victory in the Super 2000 World Rally Championship in Portugal overnight.
The production world champion Kiwis looked to be out of contention on Friday when an electrical fault grounded their New Zealand World Rally Team Skoda Fabia. Restarting on Saturday, Paddon won every on of that day's six stages to move into third in class.
Then on Sunday, Paddon and Kennard quickly moved into second place behind category leader Saudi driver Yazeed Al Rajhi. However Al Rajhi's lead of almost nine minutes looked insurmountable for the Kiwi pair until a broken cross-member on Al Rajhi's Ford gave Paddon the opportunity he was looking for.
"We wanted to come here to win, but we didn't win it like we wanted to," said Paddon who had to contend with an alternator wire fault on Sunday's third stage before taking his first win in the SWRC category.
"We're happy though and I've always said to finish first, first you have to finish. There's a lot more to come from the car and from me. We're looking forward to Brother Rally New Zealand for the next round in June."
The win in Portugal - Paddon's second event in his 2012 SWRC campaign - gives him 37 points, just six points behind SWRC championship leader Craig Breen.
Hirvonen overtakes Loeb
Finland's Mikko Hirvonen won the Rally of Portugal to seize the world championship lead from Citroen team mate Sebastien Loeb.
The victory, after all his main works team rivals had crashed out in tough conditions on the Algarve roads, was Hirvonen's first for the French manufacturer since moving from Ford at the end of last year.
Norway's Mads Ostberg finished second, one minute 51.8 seconds behind, in a privately-entered Ford while Russian Evgeny Novikov, also driving a Ford, took his first world rally championship podium in third place.
Hirvonen (75 points) now leads Loeb, the eight-times champion who retired on the first day in Portugal, by nine points overall after four of 13 rounds.
"I'm relieved more than anything because this has been a very difficult rally," Hirvonen told the world rally championship website.
"The conditions were very tough so it's great to come through with no problems and win for Citroen," added the Finn who led since Friday but failed to win a single stage.
Ostberg and 21-year-old Novikov endured last-day dramas, the former's Ford running on three cylinders while the Russian's Fiesta suffered a throttle problem.
Novikov's co-driver Denis Giraudet became, at 56, the oldest co-driver to stand on the world rally championship podium.
Norwegian Petter Solberg finished fourth, 22 seconds off a podium place, after sliding into a ditch while leading on Friday and returning with a 10-minute time penalty on Saturday.
Organisers cancelled half of Friday's stages after heavy rain left the muddy roads churned up and treacherous.
"The weekend was a big, big adventure," said Solberg who is third overall with 59 points to Loeb's 66. "To finish fourth after everything that happened is a fantastic feeling."
Qatar's Nasser Al-Attiyah was fifth in a Citroen.