COFFS COAST (NSW) – Hyundai factory driver Andreas Mikkelsen has made a perfect start to the defence of his Kennards Hire Rally Australia title by surging to the lead after the opening three stages of the 2017 event today.
PHOTO: Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen ploughs through a water splash on the Pilbara stage on his way to claiming an early lead in Kennards Hire Rally Australia (Hyundai pic)
Mikkelsen, 27, completed a clean sweep of three morning stages, topping Pilbara (9.71km), Eastbank (19.05km) and Sherwood (26.68km).
In only his third outing in the factory Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, the Norwegian created a 16.6s leader over Citroen’s Kris Meeke.
“It’s been a good morning. I’m happy with the car, it’s acting perfectly. No moments, just really enjoying the time in the car,” a relaxed Mikkelsen said.
Northern Irishman Meeke had Mikkelsen in close attendance, but leaked valuable seconds after striking trouble on a bridge in SS3.
“I was slowing in a corner in third or fourth gear and my notes were just too fast,” Meeke said.
“I ran wide and brushed the front on a bridge over a creek and I stopped reversed and lost 10 or 12 seconds.”
Craig Breen had a brilliant entree into his first Rally Australia by entering the lunchtime service break in third overall 17.7s off Mikkelsen’s pace.
Thierry Neuville (Hyundai), Ott Tanak (M-Sort Ford), Jari-Matti Latvala (Toyota) and Hayden Paddon (Hyundai) were next.
Five-time world champion Sebastien Ogier, who bore the task of “cleaning” the gravel surface as first in the running order, suffered gear selection problems in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta and has found himself in eighth, 28.8s off the lead.
Teen sensation Kalle Rovanpera was leading WRC2 and is classified 11th outright.
Brendan Reeves was the leading Australian, in 13th position and 3min.35.4sec. off the lead in a Mazda2 AP4.
The crews will regroup and return to repeat the same stages this afternoon ahead of the evening’s two 1.27km Destination NSW Super Special Stages legs.