Volkswagen Motorsport driver Sébastien Ogier has enjoyed a great full opening day of competition in Rally Australia, the 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Frenchman heads Citroën’s Mikko Hirvonen after 10 special stages with Thierry Neuville hot on his heels in third position.
Coates Hire Rally Australia got underway yesterday afternoon with two runs through the city centre super special stage, the 1.6 kilometre tests won by Andreas Mikkelsen and Ogier respectively. Today, however, the crews headed out to the forests for two identical loops of three stages before returning to Coffs Harbour for two more runs around the super special. Ogier has had the perfect day, the Frenchman winning seven of the day’s stages to pull out a 20 second lead as he battles for his first world title, which could potentially be claimed here in Australia.
Behind Ogier, the battle for second has swayed between team-mates Hirvonen and Meeke. While Meeke held the advantage earlier in the day, despite hitting a massive rock which took the steering wheel out of hands, Hirvonen inched ahead this afternoon and the pair were split by nine seconds going into the final two super specials. However, a stall from Meeke on the start line of the stage saw fourth-placed Thierry Neuville climb into third. The Belgian has admitted to being a bit ‘lost’, lacking in confidence with the conditions and grip this morning. He is however ahead of Championship rival Jari-Matti Latvala who has climbed from eighth to fifth during the day. Similarly, the Finn is finding it difficult to get into a rhythm on the Australian stages and lost time in the first stage today with a spin. Mads Østberg has been pushing hard but is also struggling to get into a rhythm and he holds sixth this evening, lucky to escape after hitting a large rock which flung open the door of his Fiesta RS WRC. Andreas Mikkelsen, in the third Volkswagen Polo R WRC, ended up down an escape road after a crest in the opening stage and overnights in seventh with new co-driver Paul Nagle. The top 10 is rounded off by Evgeny Novikov, local hero Nathan Quinn, and Khalid Al Qassimi.