After leading the rally until sunset and holding off their rivals in the dark and the dust, Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle are on course to secure a great result in Australia.
Leader of Rally Australia on Friday afternoon, Kris Meeke had relinquished first place to Jari-Matti Latvala on the final stage of the opening day… and history more or less repeated itself today. The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team driver once again grabbed the overall lead following Saturday’s first stage.
On the 50.80 kilometre-long Nambucca, Kris Meeke had moved back into the lead by finishing 4.6 seconds ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala, even though the choice of soft compound Michelin tyres may not have been ideal. On Valla, and then the second pass on Nambucca, the Northern Irishman held onto his position as he contained the fightback of Sébastien Ogier.
After two days’ racing, we are 0.3 seconds behind the leader.
However, on the leg’s final test, held after dark, Kris Meeke was hampered by the dust as he was seventh to complete the stage. And whilst the first three to set off improved their times compared with the first run, all the other crews lost several seconds due to the impaired visibility.
At the end of day two, Kris Meeke holds second place overall, just 0.3 seconds behind the leader Sébastien Ogier. The top four cars ended the leg with just 9.1 seconds between them.
Back in action after having missed the final few kilometres of SS8, Stéphane Lefebvre produced a flawless performance today. First on the road, he continued to learn about rallying at this level with the DS 3 WRC in very difficult conditions. This evening, he lies fourteenth overall.
Tomorrow’s final leg is due to get underway at 7.10am (UTC+10). The final sprint for the tape will feature a first loop of three stages before a service and two final stages at 11.42am (Bucca Long/21.95km) and 1.08pm, the latter being the televised Power Stage (Wedding Bells/9.23km). The podium ceremony will be held from 3pm.
Kris Meeke: “After two days’ racing, we are 0.3 seconds behind the leader. To be honest, we made a mistake when we opted to go with soft tyres this morning. I’m still very pleased with my second loop and the good time we set on the long stage. I’m going to do my best tomorrow, although I know it will be difficult.”
Stéphane Lefebvre: “Well, that was a new experience! As we were first on the road, the stages were very slippery. This morning, the grip was consistent. I was able to get used to the conditions and adapt my driving style. On the second pass, the grip was constantly changing. I had a few hairy moments, which weren‘t due to me being overly optimistic, I was just trying to manage the differences in road surface. It wasn’t easy but I’m pleased with how my day went.”
Standings after day 2
1. Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 2:20:51.8
2. Kris Meeke / Paul Nagle (DS 3 WRC) +0.3
3. Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +2.6
4. Andreas Mikkelsen / Ola Floene (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +9.1
5. Hayden Paddon / John Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC) +19.4
6. Ott Tanak / Raigo Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +39.1
7. Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:03.9
8. Dani Sordo / Marc Marti (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:10.2
9. Elfyn Evans / Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +3:15.1
10. Nasser Al-Attiyah / Mathieu Baumer (Ford Fiesta RRC) +8:30.4…
14. Stéphane Lefebvre / Stéphane Prévot (DS 3 WRC) +14:09.2