This new stage is based in the heart of Coffs Harbour, across the road from the service park. It features two cars at a time, with a simultaneous start on opposite sides of a former velodrome oval before breaking out on to surrounding streets, and the finish back in the oval. The surface is a combination of asphalt and gravel.
How the action unfolded:
Volkswagen’s Andreas Mikkelsen holds a slender overnight lead of Rally Australia after the opening two stages on Thursday evening.
The Norwegian was fastest on the first pass of the Super Special in downtown Coffs Harbour - run as SS1 - and second on the second (SS2) to hold a 0.9sec advantage over Citroen DS3 driver Kris Meeke. Mikkelsen’s Volkswagen team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala is third, 0.5sec behind Meeke.
It is the first time that Mikkelsen has led a WRC rally, but it was a close call after he clipped a barrier with the left-hand front corner of his Polo R on the second loop.
“The stage was okay but I think the organisers sprayed water on the road after the first pass and suddenly it was super slippery,” he explained. “I think we’re okay, no damage.”
The water, sprayed on the dry earth sections to keep the dust clouds down, made conditions unexpectedly slippery for many of the WRC crews. “Some corners are like ice,” reported Meeke. “We put on a good show but took absolutely no risks.”
Cheered on by grandstands full of spectators, crews tackled the tight and twisty mixed surface test in pairs with headlights blazing. Drivers’ championship leader Sebastien Ogier ended the day fourth, and looking forward to Friday, when the action switches to the twisty gravel roads south of Coffs Harbour.
“I just tried to keep out of trouble here, but it was tricky because we decided to start with the hard [compound] tyres. Not the best in the slippery stuff - we didn’t expect more water on the stage. Tomorrow is the real start of the rally,” he said.
Mikko Hirvonen is fifth, with Thierry Neuville sixth and Mads Ostberg - who complained of bad understeer – seventh.
Coffs Harbour resident Nathan Quinn ended the day 10th on his debut in a Mini JCW World Rally Car, and managed to beat Khalid Al Qassimi on his second pass through the stage. “I’m learning a lot pretty quickly, now I can’t wait to get out on the wide roads tomorrow,” he said.
Ford Fiesta R5 driver Yuriy Protasov heads the WRC 2 standings, 0.5sec ahead of Yazeed Al Rajhi in a Fiesta RRC. Hayden Paddon is third but left for the overnight parc ferme concerned at the low battery voltage of his Skoda Fabia S2000.
Ford Fiesta R5 driver Subhan Aksa started the stage six minutes late after emergency work to cure an engine problem overran. The Indonesian lost power on the first pass through Thursday’s shakedown and M-Sport technicians stripped and rebuilt the engine this afternoon after it was found to be leaking oil and water.
Rally Australia resumes on Friday morning, with the first of eight stages, the 8.44km Tuckers Nob, getting underway at 1003hrs local time.