Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg was also looking at ease behind the wheel of his Fiesta RS WRC.
Qatar World Rally Team’s Thierry Neuville strengthened his third place at Rally Australia today. Venturing further south to the Macksville region of New South Wales, the Belgian was at one behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC and is now on course to secure a fifth successive podium in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC)
Pulling clear of their nearest rivals, Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul proved their potential once again. Blisteringly quick whilst constantly in control, a string of top-three times over the afternoon loop saw the Belgians eke out a 36.2 second advantage over their championship adversary – Jari-Matti Latvala.
Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg was also looking at ease behind the wheel of his Fiesta RS WRC. Having worked hard to amend what had been overly optimistic pacenotes, the Norwegian and his Swedish co-driver Jonas Andersson were back on form. Despite being disadvantaged running earlier on the road, Østberg was quick through Valla 1 (SS12) – setting the third fastest time just 4.2 seconds shy of an advantageously placed Sébastien Ogier.
Having climbed to fifth place overall – with fourth well within his grasp – the Norwegian was set for a good result on his Australian debut. Unfortunately, his good work was undone on the second pass of Valla (SS14) when he ran wide on a tight left-hand corner. But with just 2.6 seconds separating the 25-year-old from a top-five result, Østberg remains on course for a good finish.
In the sister Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team Fiesta, road position was proving a real obstacle for Evgeny Novikov. As the third car on the road, there was nothing the Russian could do. Clearing a fine layer of loose gravel and dust for the following cars, he and co-driver Ilka Minor were left with no option other than to manage their pace.
Embarking on the second loop of stages, a puncture on SS13 cost the Muscovite almost four minutes. But having established a comfortable lead over the chasing pack, the time loss did not affect his position in the overall standings. Looking to maintain the same rhythm for tomorrow’s final day, Novikov will be eager to take advantage should an opportunity arise.
Thierry Neuville (3rd) said: “I really enjoyed this afternoon. Kris [Meeke] was pushing really hard on the long stage [SS13] so we decided to push a bit as well. I think we did a really good time whilst saving the tyres. OK, they [the tyres] weren’t perfect, but we managed to finish the second stage with no problems, and a pretty good time actually!
“Now, we just need to ensure that we maintain this position and keep Jari-Matti [Latvala] behind us. Whilst not taking any big risks, we had some good speed compared to him today so I hope we can continue like that tomorrow.”
Mads Østberg (6th) said: “We went wide on a Tarmac corner on SS14 – quite a tight left-hander. I was obviously too fast into the corner because we went really wide and drifted down into the ditch. We hit the bank and spun. It was quite a big impact so it took a while to get back into the rhythm and ensure that everything was fine.
“The car is OK and we managed to take quite a lot of time out of Andreas [Mikkelsen] this morning so I hope we can continue like that and take back fifth place tomorrow. Of course it would have been nicer going into tomorrow with a 20 second advantage as opposed to a few seconds disadvantage, but we are still here and there is all to play for.”
Evgeny Novikov (7th) said: “I’m not sure how it happened, but not far from the start of SS13 we felt that something wasn’t quite right with the rear of the car. At first I thought it was maybe something with the suspension, because it didn’t feel like a puncture. It was very strange. We kept going, and when it became worse we had to slow right down. Luckily, in the end, it turned out that it was just a puncture.
“It was quite difficult this afternoon because the lines of the cars in front were so different to the ones we would usually take. Like today, we just need to manage our pace and see what happens tomorrow.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “It’s been another really solid day for all three crews. All the cars have ran faultlessly and it’s great to see the team in such a strong position to challenge for tomorrow.
“Thierry [Neuville] has impressed me once again. He’s reinforced his position and increased the margin to Jari-Matti [Latvala]. He’s determined not to let go of second place in the championship, and he’s well on the way to achieving that goal.”
Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team