Khalid Al-Qassimi and Scott Martin ended the day in the top 10 of the overall standings in the third DS3 WRC.
Fighting at the front throughout the day, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team crews finished the first leg of Rally Australia in second and fourth positions, with Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen ahead of Kris Meeke/Chris Patterson. Khalid Al-Qassimi and Scott Martin ended the day in the top 10 of the overall standings in the third DS3 WRC.
Despite running fifth on the road, Mikko Hirvonen managed to compete with the drivers setting off after him – and who therefore benefitted from cleaner racing line. The Finn moved up into second position after SS3. On the next stage, he was overtaken by Kris Meeke, who held onto second place until the crews stopped for lunch.
“I tried to make the most of running in tenth position on the road,“ confirmed the Northern Irishman, who had set the fastest time in qualifying. “This was my first day with this kind of set-up. It was fantastic to drive, although I still feel like I’m learning about the car.
I didn’t take any risks, but that didn’t prevent me from hitting a massive stone that was pulled out in the middle of the road on SS5. I thought I had broken the steering, but thankfully it’s a strong car and I’m still here!”
With conditions becoming more even on the second runs, Mikko Hirvonen moved back ahead of his team-mate on SS6. The four-time World Championship runner-up didn’t let up for a second, maintaining the pressure on Sébastien Ogier. “I’m pleased with today, although the leader has built up a gap a little bit quicker than I thought he would.
We’ll have to push hard tomorrow,” analysed the Citroën driver. “More generally, it’s good for the team that both cars are proving to be competitive. Kris did a very good job today and we have the potential to secure an excellent overall result this weekend.”
Third throughout the afternoon, Kris Meeke fell back to fourth overall after two further runs on the Coffs super special stage. “I stalled at the start and that cost me ten seconds or so. It’s a shame, but I’m only five tenths off third place and it shouldn’t detract from what has been a very positive day.
I found the second loop more difficult than the first loop, because the grip levels had changed quite a lot. In certain sections, there was a kind of powder on the surface that meant the road was very slippery. Despite my lack of experience, I’m not far behind Mikko and that’s good news for the team.”
Competing in the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team’s DS3 WRC, Khalid Al-Qassimi had a tough day. “I think we could have done better,” admitted the Emirati, who finished the day tenth overall. “But to do that, first of all, I would have needed to use the right-hand pedal a little bit more! I also think that we can do more work on the set-up of the car, so that I feel more confident.”