WRC – Østberg tops the battle ‘down under’ | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile
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WRC – Østberg tops the battle ‘down under’

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Rally Australia - Friday morning

Mads Østberg has powered into the lead of Rally Australia after the opening three stages of the final and title-deciding round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Norwegian holds a 5.4 second advantage over second placed Esapekka Lappi with Jari-Matti Latvala third, both also having led during the morning loop of stages.

After last night’s ceremonial start, the Rally Australia action got underway with the first of two identical loops of three stages. Østberg struggled with some understeer and a couple of mistakes in the opener, putting him in equal fifth, and despite feeling he had no rhythm at all in the following stage jumped into third behind joint leaders Lappi and Latvala. Fastest time in the longest stage of the day however catapulted him into the lead for Citroen as he capitalised on an advantageous road position. Lappi has had a great morning, winning the first stage to take the early lead. He was a bit cautious in the next one, resulting in Latvala sharing his lead, but the Finn has been happy with his early performance. His Toyota team-mate Latvala set the fastest time through the second stage and arrived back at the mid-leg service just four-tenths of a second adrift of Lappi and only 5.8 seconds off the lead.

Craig Breen started down in 11th but has steadily climbed the leaderboard, despite struggling with the front end of the car, and now holds fourth, 1.2 seconds adrift of Latvala. Hayden Paddon is the lead Hyundai driver in fifth. The Kiwi has been easing himself back into the pace after sitting out the last round in Spain but was getting the feeling back by the end of the loop. Championship outsider Ott Tänak is sixth, but still only 7.8 seconds off the lead. The Estonian declared he was not yet on the limit and was then lucky to escape unscathed after going off the road and up a bank. He also sustained a puncture. M-Sport Ford team-mate Teemu Suninen and Elfyn Evans are seventh and eighth respectively with the main Championship contenders hot on their heels. Thierry Neuville currently heads Sebastien Ogier by 8.4 seconds, both drivers having the disadvantage of running first and second on the road.

The only leading retirement of the morning was Andreas Mikkelsen, the Norwegian running into a ditch and damaging the front end of his Hyundai.

The FIA WRC 2 Championship is being led by Alberto Heller with brother Pedro 12 seconds adrift. Enrico Brazzoli, the only contender in WRC 3, completed this morning’s loop of stages.