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(Event release, 12/9/2013)  VOLKSWAGEN’S Motorsport’s Andreas Mikkelsen claimed an early lead when Coates Hire Rally Australia kicked off on the NSW Coffs Coast tonight.

Mikkelsen was quickest through the two runs over the ARMOR ALL Super Special Stage, which opened round 10 of the FIA World Rally Championship in Brelsford Park in the heart of Coffs Harbour.

He came home 1.5 seconds ahead of teammate and championship leader, Sébastien Ogier, who was fourth fastest.

Citroen’s Kris Meeke, who won the Qualifying session this morning, came in second-fastest last night, ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala of Finland (Volkswagen).

All the leading drivers complained of slippery conditions on the Super Special Stage, after it had been watered to control dust.

“I expected it to be difficult, but it was a fun stage. It’s already quite rough but also slippy – (I) just have to avoid making mistakes,” Ogier said.

Ogier, who has won five of the nine FIA World Rally Championship rounds run so far this year, leads the standings by 75 points from Ford driver Thierry Neuville.

To secure the title this weekend, he must pick up nine points more than Neuville and one more than his Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala, who is currently third. Latvala goes into today’s forest stages in third place and Neuville in sixth.

In yesterday’s dusty qualifying session, it was Citroën recruit Meeke who set the pace ahead of Ogier and Neuville, but less than a second separated the three.

The result earned Meeke first choice of starting position for tomorrow’s leg and predictably he will start last of the top priority drivers.

He hopes to take advantage of the best road conditions by starting 10th when the opening leg leaves the Hi-Tech Service Park base at Brelsford Park tomorrow morning.

His choice was predictable. A long dry period has left the gravel tracks dry and dusty. While the early starters face the unenviable task of sweeping loose stones from the surface, he should benefit from a cleaner and faster line.

Meeke’s only concern was the threat of hanging dust among the trees.

However, organisers have extended the usual two-minute gap between cars by an extra minute, as they did in qualifying, for safety reasons

First car on the road tomorrow will be Australia’s Nathan Quinn, a Coffs Coast local who is driving an Italian-prepared MINI in the event – his first ever run in a world rally car. Ogier will be ninth car out, Neuville eighth and Latvala third.

The crews cover six stages across 133 kms tomorrow on the so-called Crntral Leg, to the north of the hinterland town of Bellingen in Tuckers Nob State Forest and to the south west of coastal Urunga in the Newry State Forest.

Stages vary from high-speed shire roads to tight and technical forest tracks.  Spectating points are between 35 minutes’ and 50 minutes’ drive from the heart of Coffs Harbour and all locations are new for 2013.

Coates Hire Rally Australia will cover just over 350km before the podium in Coffs Harbour on Sunday afternoon.

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.