Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle ended day one of Rally Australia in second position in their DS 3 WRC, just two seconds behind the overall leader.
The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team started Rally Australia with a somewhat altered line-up. After an accident during recce for the event, Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson were already on their way back to Europe yesterday, so Stéphane Lefebvre and Stéphane Prévot were tasked with driving their number 4 DS 3 WRC. Originally in Australia only to take part in recce, the two Stéphanes seized the opportunity to support Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle.
Despite a few overnight showers in the area, the roads were dry by this morning. During a series of three brand new tests, Kris Meeke established himself in the top three. He then won the longest stage of the morning (SS4, Newry Long), meaning that he headed for midday service as the overall leader.
In the afternoon, the conditions changed
With the racing lines partially swept clear of dust, Kris had to defend his position as the earlier starters began to make up ground. Overall leader ahead of the day’s final stage, he ended the leg in second overall, just two seconds behind Jari-Matti Latvala after having been held up by the hanging dust on his run.
Three weeks after making his competitive debut in the DS 3 WRC at Rallye Deutschland, Stéphane Lefebvre discovered an entirely different setting this morning as he tackled gravel stages for the first time. With his experience of the surface limited to 25 kilometres during shakedown, the young Frenchman gradually found his bearings, first of all with soft tyres and then on the hard compound. Ninth overall at the start of the day’s final test, he hit a rock and was forced to retire just a few kilometres short of the end of the stage. The number 4 DS 3 WRC will rejoin the rally on Saturday and will be first on the road.
Tomorrow’s leg only features four stages. The cars are due to leave parc ferme at 8.40am (GMT+10) as they set off for Nambucca. The rally’s longest stage (50.80km) will get underway at 10.18am, before the crews then tackle Valla (7.94km) which will be broadcast live on television. Following a thirty-minute service, the stages will be repeated in the afternoon, the second run on Valla being held after nightfall, at 6.10pm. The cars are due back in Coffs Harbour 7.30pm.
Kris Meeke: “I’m pleased with my day. We took advantage of our starting position this morning to make a good start to the rally. We lost first place on the final stage of the day, but I couldn’t do much more to defend the position, given the dust clouds that reduced our visibility. There will be more sweeping tomorrow. We’ll see how the rally goes, bearing in mind that the most important thing is to make it to the finish and be consistent. If the opportunity presents itself, then we’ll try to fight for the win.”
Stéphane Lefebvre: “I have really enjoyed driving the DS 3 WRC on these roads. I’m perhaps not very quick as yet, but I’m learning. We weren’t expecting to be as competitive in the first three stages. The conditions undoubtedly helped us, but we had never driven the DS 3 WRC competitively on gravel. This afternoon, we tried to improve. Unfortunately, we broke a ball-joint on the suspension wishbone when he hit a rock on the final stage. We’ll be able to rejoin tomorrow, but we’ll be first on the road. So that’s something else we’ll have to tackle for the first time!”
Marek Nawarecki (Deputy Team Principal): “Kris Meeke made a very good start to the race in the DS 3 WRC. For his first day in the DS 3 WRC on gravel, Stéphane Lefebvre was able to see how the two types of tyres handle differently. He learned a lot and it’s important that he keeps going tomorrow so he can acquire more experience for the future.”