The battle for the lead in Rally Australia is incredibly close following the opening day of action.
During a day that has seen the lead of Rally Australia change four times, reigning World Champion Sébastien Ogier has jumped into first position on the final stage of the opening day of competition.
Four drivers, four seconds
Such is the intensity at the top of the leaderboard, four drivers are now split by just 4.1 seconds and the top five are covered by less than eight seconds. Jari-Matti Latvala is second and Andreas Mikkelsen makes it a one-two-three for Volkswagen Motorsport this evening.
Coates Hire Rally Australia started in earnest this morning with the crews tackling two identical loops of three stages before returning to Coffs Harbour for two runs around the short super special stage. This morning conditions proved tricky for those running at the front of the field, the road cleaning effect becoming more marked stage by stage.
Ogier took the early lead, the Frenchman winning the opening stage despite his position of first on the road, but Meeke powered ahead in the third stage after two stage wins. The Northern Irish driver maintained his advantage for the rest of the day, but lost out on the two final runs through the super special stage, such was the closeness of competition. He overnights fourth but is only 4.1 seconds adrift of the lead.
Jari-Matti Latvala will doubtless be surprised to see himself in second position after a poor start this morning. The Finn was unhappy with the brakes in the opening stage but started to regain confidence in the second after bleeding them between the stages. He won two stages this afternoon and moved from fifth to second in the final forestry stage.
He then briefly led the rally after the first super special stage, only to drop 0.4 seconds behind Ogier after the final run. Mikkelsen has had a very solid drive to third with nothing more than a couple of small mistakes. Behind fourth-placed Meeke, Mikko Hirvonen is having one of his best outings of the season. The Finn, who has won Rally Australia three times, has similarly run without problems and continues to fight for the victory; he is only 7.9 seconds off the lead.
Behind the flying five
Behind the flying five, Hayden Paddon is the top Hyundai i20 WRC driver. He was lucky to escape damage after a jump kicked the car off the road and pitched it on to its nose in the opening stage. He is sixth with team-mates Thierry Neuville and Chris Atkinson 10th and 11th respectively. Neuville went straight on at a junction in the first stage and then broke the rear suspension this afternoon after clipping a stone.
Australia’s Atkinson has just not got into the rhythm today and will be disappointed to be outside the top 10 on his home round of the Championship. Seventh is Mads Østberg, the Norwegian off the road and without confidence this morning. At the lunchtime service, however, a damaged rear diff was found to be the cause of the problem. Robert Kubica is eighth, a spin early in the day losing him time. Fellow Fiesta RS WRC driver Elfyn Evans has just been unable to get into a comfortable rhythm throughout the day and he is ninth overnight.
Current running order
|1||Sebastien Ogier||Volkswagen Motorsport||Volkswagen||58m05.8s|
|2||Jari-Matti Latvala||Volkswagen Motorsport||Volkswagen||0.4s|
|3||Andreas Mikkelsen||Volkswagen Motorsport II||Volkswagen||3.5s|
|4||Kris Meeke||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||4.1s|
|5||Mikko Hirvonen||M-Sport Ltd||Ford||7.9s|
|6||Hayden Paddon||Hyundai Motorsport N||Hyundai||46.4s|
|7||Mads Ostberg||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||50.3s|
|8||Robert Kubica||RK M-Sport WRT||Ford||57.6s|
|9||Elfyn Evans||M-Sport Ltd||Ford||1m30.5s|
|10||Thierry Neuville||Hyundai Motorsport||Hyundai||2m08.4s|