Australia WRC: Neuville pulls clear on shortened afternoon loop
Thierry Neuville will take a 19-second Rally Australia lead into Saturday evening's Super Special Stages in Coffs Harbour, after the final forest stage of the afternoon was cancelled.
Crews were set for a second pass over the 20-kilometre Newry stage to finish the afternoon loop, but it was cancelled before it even got underway due to a damaged bridge.
It's believed that a state championship competitor hit the bridge during this morning's first pass on the stage.
The cancellation meant that the 19-second lead that Neuville built over Jari-Matti Latvala during the first two stages of the loop is what he'll take into the two passes of the harbour front Super Special Stage this evening.
Having inherited the lead from Friday pacesetter Andreas Mikkelsen during the Saturday morning loop, Neuville went into the afternoon leg with a narrow 6.3s margin over Latvala.
It wasn't a narrow margin for long, though. The Belgian made a flying start on SS12, surviving slippery conditions late in the stage to beat Latvala by a whopping 9.9s to extend the overall lead to over 16s.
He then pulled another 2.8s on Latvala when he topped the Argents Hill stage, putting him in a commanding position with just one more day of forest stages to come.
Ott Tanak took over third spot from Kris Meeke on the opening stage of the loop after Meeke hit a narrow bridge and damaged the right rear suspension on his Citroen.
The crash cost Meeke 9.9s to Tanak on the stage, and having then attempted to make running repairs before the Argents Hill stage he opted to retire the car and return to the service park.
That leaves Tanak sitting pretty in third spot, 21s behind Latvala in second and 25s clear of Craig Breen in fourth.
Breen and Hayden Paddon both made up spots thanks to Mikkelsen and Meeke's misfortune, and now sit fourth and fifth respectively, while Sebastian Ogier is now up to sixth.
The newly-crowned World Champion failed to trouble the frontrunners in terms of outright pace again today, and finished the second loop with damage to the front of his M-Sport Ford after tagging a bank during the Welshs Creek stage.
Stephane Lefebvre is a distant eighth in the wake of his run-in with local police.
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