COFFS COAST (NSW) – Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen has orchestrated a perfect start to Kennards Hire Rally Australia by edging out his lead after the opening six special stages today.
Leading from this morning’s start, Mikkelsen (Hyundai i20 WRC) extended his lead on the repeat afternoon leg of the Pilbara, Eastbank and Sherwood stages to hold a 20.9s advantage over Citroen’s Kris Meeke.
Hyundai team leader Thierry Neuville has moved into third outright, 23.1s down, while Toyota Gazoo Racing Yaris driver Jari-Matti Latvala is fourth.
Citroen’s Craig Breen has slipped to fifth, 31.4s down, after holding third after the morning loop.
Ott Tanak (M-Sport Ford Fiesta), Hayden Paddon (Hyundai i20 WRC), world champion Sebastien Ogier (M-Sport Ford Fiesta), Stephane Lefebvre (Citroen DS3) and Elfyn Evans (M-Sport Ford Fiesta) complete the top 10.
The field now contests two passes around the short but spectacular Destination NSW Super Special Stage at the Coffs Harbour Jetty recreational precinct before returning for service and overnight parc fermé
Defending Rally Australia champion Mikkelsen said he had struck a fine balance with his machine in only his third event since being hired by the German-based Korean manufacturer.
“It’s been really amazing. The car feels like home now,” Mikkelsen said.
“It’s the perfect day for us so far. With these roads and this car it’s so nice because I can do exactly what I want.”
Meeke was sporting some battle damage to the front splitter after SS6 as he struggled to come to grips with tyre compound choices.
“Just trying to work it out to be honest,” Meeke said.
“We’ve been through softs and I went through hards. It seems like the tyre choice is a mixed bag.”
Neuville was also not comfortable with the tyres after the 26.68km SS6.
“I struggled a bit with the soft tyres on this one and the rear was sliding too much, especially the left rear.
“I couldn’t really push in the right-hand corner and I lost a bit of time in there.”
Finnish prodigy Kalle Rovanpera, 17, leads WRC2 in an M-Sport run Fiesta, positioned 12th outright.
Australian crew Harry Bates and co-driver John McCarthy were forced to sit out the afternoon loop after experiencing overheating problems in their AP4-spec Yaris.
“It was overheating through the Sherwood stage,” team owner Neal Bates said.
“We decided to pull it out now and sort it out rather than risk damaging the engine.”
The leading Australian driver in the WRC field is Victorian Brendan Reeves, who held a steady 13th position through the daytime stages.
In the showdown for the CAMS Australian Rally Championship, local driver Nathan Quinn leads defending titleholder Molly Taylor by 38.3 seconds. Taylor leads the standings by 30 points.