PHOTO: Jari Matti-Latvala short-cuts the Australian scenery on his way to Rally Australia lead (Jeremy Rogers pic)
COFFS COAST (NSW) – Volkswagen’s fast Finn Jari-Matti Latvala has grabbed the lead from his French teammate after the first two stages of Day Two of Coates Hire Rally Australia today.
Latvala and his VW Polo R WRC started the 48.92km Nambucca stage just 0.4 sec. of a second behind defending world champion Sébastien Ogier and emerged at the other end 2.6 seconds ahead.
“I felt comfortable. It was a smooth stage. I found a rhythm in there and the time came to me. In places the roads reminded me of Finland,” Latvala said.
After the second of the morning’s stages, the 7.92km Valla, Latvala had increased his lead to 4.1 seconds.
“It’s a very good feeling. I’m really enjoying the driving. They are fabulous stages. Yes, we have worn the tyres – the more you use them the more they work,” he said.
His teammate was also enjoying the stages but knows he still has work to do, sounding an ominous warning to his rivals.
“That [Nambucca] wasn’t perfect but not bad. Better than last year. I can do better so I will try harder next time through,” Ogier said.
“On the second corner of the second stage I made a mistake. I took too much of a cut and hit a bank which put me off the line. At the moment it is so close. Every second counts.”
The pair is currently doing battle for the 2014 title, with Ogier ahead by 44 points. The third Volkswagen driver, Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen, is third on the ladder and in third place after this morning’s test.
Strong performances by the Volkswagen trio puts the German-based team in a promising position to wrap up the 2014 Manufacturers Championship on this event.
Fourth place for this morning belonged to Northern Ireland’s hard-charging Kris Meeke and his Citroën DS3 WRC while Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen (Ford Fiesta RS WRC), who has won Rally Australia three times, rounded out the top five.
Hyundai Motorsport’s Australian driver Chris Atkinson (Hyundai i20 WRC) had a testing morning, courtesy of a WRC sporting regulation that reverses the starting order of the leading group of drivers.
That meant he was first car on the road after finishing 11th yesterday and, after rain last night, was effectively sweeping the road clean for those who came after him.
He’s now in 12th outright. The frustration showed, with the Queenslander saying he was powerless to do much more than drive safely.
“We’re really not in a position where we can fight for the front now, and it would look even worse if we chucked it off,” Atkinson said.
That second stage was great fun, though, an awesome stage. The car is working well but I’m still fine-tuning it.”
Between Atkinson and the top five are the remaining top-tier drivers, and WRC2 driver Yazeed Al Rajhi, who is in 11th.
Atkinson’s Kiwi colleague Hayden Paddon is currently sixth and leading the three-car Korean factory contingent. Seventh belongs to Citroën’s Mads Østberg while former Formula One star Robert Kubica is eighth. In ninth is Ford’s Elfyn Evans and in 10th, Hyundai team leader, Thierry Neuville.
The Belgian, who won the last round in Germany, started strongly yesterday but lost five places and almost two minutes after breaking his suspension and is still fighting his way back.
“It was a big push [on Valla this morning]. Maybe I enjoyed it a bit too much in places. I wanted to have some fun so I pushed quite hard. I have to catch the others,” Neuville said.
Crews returned to the Hi-Tec Oils Service Park in Coffs Harbour for scheduled servicing before repeating the two morning stages again this afternoon.
A repeat of the two short super special stages under lights in Coffs Harbour tonight will close the day after 118.88km of action. The final stage will see the conclusion of the ARMOR ALL Shootout, awarded to the WRC driver with the fastest aggregate time over two nights on the Super Special.
Sunday’s stages are north-west of Coffs Harbour, in the State forests near the towns of Nana Glen and Coramba and include Wedding Bells, which will be run twice and shown live on TV (10am; 3pm), before the podium and champagne celebrations back at the Hi-Tec Oils Service Park at Coffs Harbour.
Tickets for Coates Hire Rally Australia and the Pedders Suspension Coffs Coast 400 partner event are available at gates at spectator points or before boarding the free Michelin Shuttle bus service at the international stadium.
The Michelin Shuttle will take spectators to the East Coast Bullbars Rally Village on the Valla stage today and Wedding Bells tomorrow.
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.
Overall Classification after two stages, Day Two:
1. J.M Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 1h.29:31.5
2. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) + 4.1
3. A. Mikkelsen / O. Floene (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +16.1
4. K. Meeke / P. Nagle (Citroën DS3 WRC) +16.9
5. M. Hirvonen / J. Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +36.4