COFFS COAST (NSW) – Citroën’s Kris Meeke took an early lead after the first three stages of Coates Hire Rally Australia, the Australian round of the FIA World Rally Championship, which started on the New South Wales Coffs Coast today.
Meeke and his Citroën DS3 WRC held a slender lead of 2.4 seconds after the morning’s three stages, which will be repeated this afternoon before crews return to Coffs Harbour for tonight’s Hyundai Super Special Stage at the city’s international stadium.
The Irish-born driver’s nearest rival is Volkswagen’s Andreas Mikkelsen, with M-Sport’s Mikko Hirvonen (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) – a three-time winner of this event – a further 0.9sec. behind.
Fourth fastest for the morning was defending champion and current championship leader, Sébastien Ogier (VW Polo R WRC), who surprised himself by posting the quickest time on the first stage before slipping a little further down the order in stages two and three. He pronounced himself happy with things so far.
Not so much for his teammate Jari-Matti Latvala, who is currently second in the championship points tally and rounds out the top five for the first section of Day One.
“I was struggling on the first stage with the brakes, but now everything is okay. The grip is not so bad. We went wide on a couple of bits, but okay really,” Latvala said.
After this morning’s three stages, which were all based to the south near the town of Bellingen, the crews headed back to the Hi-Tec Oils Service Park.
They return to the Bellingen area this afternoon for another run through the three stages, which total 46.36km, all timed against the clock.
Further back in the pack at the midday break was Hyundai’s Australian driver, Chris Atkinson (Hyundai i20 WRC).
‘Atko’ is taking a steady approach to his first event in a world rally car since Mexico in March, when he finished seventh.
The Queenslander, who has been involved in the development and test program for Hyundai’s return to the WRC this year, was in 10th place, around 46sec behind Meeke.
“I was just trying to get into a rhythm given it’s my first time in the car for six months,” Atkinson said.
“I’m reasonably happy with the time, considering. We didn’t have any moments out there, but I wasn’t going slowly either.”
While the event also serves as Round Five of the East Coast Bullbars Australian Rally Championship, eight Australian crews have nominated to run in the WRC field.
After the first pass through the stages, the best of these was Matt Van Tuinen (Subaru Impreza WRX Sti) in 20th outright, five minutes behind the leader.
Tomorrow’s stages are also to the south of Coffs Harbour, in the forests behind Nambucca Heads and Macksville, as well as two more runs over the super special stage near the city centre.
Sunday’s stages are north-west of Coffs Harbour, in the State forests near the towns of Nana Glen and Coramba.
The event ends with a podium and champagne celebration in Coffs Harbour late on Sunday 14 September, after covering a total of 948km, of which almost 314km are competitive stages against the clock.
Live results throughout the rally will be available at www.rallyaustralia.com.au.
Tickets for Coates Hire Rally Australia and the Pedders Suspension Coffs Coast 400 partner event are available through the NRMAtix link at rallyaustralia.com.au.
Full event details including spectator maps and directions, Rally Village free Michelin Shuttle bus times and entry lists also are available on the event website.