Kris Meeke opts to start at the back in his Citroen DS3
Citroen's guest driver Kris Meeke made the best possible start to Rally Australia by going fastest on the Qualifying Stage near Coffs Harbour this morning.
It means the Brit, driving here in place of Dani Sordo and on only his second rally in a Citroen DS3 WRC, will have first choice of road position for the opening day of the rally.
In bright and sunny conditions, Meeke was quickest through the 5.54km stage in Bucca by 0.336sec from Sebastien Ogier in a Volkswagen Polo R WRC. Thierry Neuville was third, 0.309sec adrift of Ogier in a Qatar World Rally Team Ford Fiestas RS.
A pumped-up and delighted Meeke punched the air when his time was written on the board at the stage finish. “It’s all about road position here, and that was perfect for me!” he told wrc.com. “It’s not like Finland because this stage is new for everyone. It's a level playing field and I knew that I could deliver given a clean run.”
First through the stage, Ogier’s time had looked unbeatable until Meeke beat it near the end of the session. At the stage end however the Frenchman, who can wrap up the drivers’ championship this weekend, revealed that he could have done better. “It was okay, but not the perfect stage for me,” he said. “Tomorrow’s starting order will be important so I pushed hard - but it wasn’t 100 per cent.”
Neuville too wasn’t completely satisfied with his time. “I could have gone faster but I was a bit too careful in places,” the Belgian explained. “This weekend is a new event for me, and it’s all about finding a steady pace and keeping my second place in the championship.”
Mads Ostberg was fourth in a Fiesta RS, the Norwegian lucky to escape a collision midway through. “We hit a big rock on a long straight after a crest,” he explained. “It was a really big impact on the front right so I took it a bit carefully in the next few corners. When I knew everything was okay I was right back on it again.”
Andreas Mikkelsen was fifth in his Volkswagen Polo R after a shaky start. “I messed up on the first few corners because I missed the right lines,” he said.
Mikko Hirvonen, who reported very slippery conditions, was sixth fastest, with Evgeny Novikov seventh and a downbeat Jari-Matti Latvala eighth. “I’m missing something,” said the Finn. “I thought I’d done a good run but I’m not sure where I lost the time. Maybe I was too sideways in some of the corners.”
Khalid Al Qassimi was ninth quickest with local driver Nathan Quinn rounding off the WRC runners in tenth.
Meeke opts to start at the back
Rally Australia qualifying stage winner Kris Meeke has opted to start tomorrow's opening leg last of the top priority drivers.
The Citroen DS3 pilot earned the right to choose his start position first by topping the qualifying times. He hopes to take advantage of the best road conditions by starting 10th when the opening leg leaves the Coffs Harbour base tomorrow morning.
His choice was predictable. A long dry period has left the gravel tracks dry and dusty. While the early starters face the unenviable task of sweeping loose stones from the surface, he should benefit from a cleaner and faster line.
Meeke’s only concern was the threat of hanging dust among the trees. However, organisers are considering extending the usual two minute gap between cars by an extra minute, as they did in qualifying, for safety reasons.
Sebastien Ogier, second in qualifying, will start immediately ahead of Meeke in his Volkswagen Polo R with Thierry Neuville’s Ford Fiesta RS ahead of the Frenchman. All the drivers after Meeke opted for the lowest position available.
Coffs Harbour resident Nathan Quinn will be first on the road on his debut in a Mini John Cooper Works.
The full start order is:
1. Nathan Quinn
2. Khalid Al Qassimi
3. Jari-Matti Latvala
4. Evgeny Novikov
5. Mikko Hirvonen
6. Andreas Mikkelsen
7. Mads Ostberg
8. Thierry Neuville
9. Sebastien Ogier
10 Kris Meeke
Meeke and his World Rally Car rivals will select their starting positions at a rally show in Coffs Harbour city centre from 1615hrs local time. The rally’s first stage, the Coffs Super Special, gets underway at 1830hrs.