COFFS COAST (NSW) – Belgium’s Thierry Neuville has edged closer to sealing second in the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship after a slashing performance on Day 2 of Kennards Hire Rally Australia.
PHOTO: Big crowds of spectators were thrilled by WRC action from event leader Thierry Neuville (Jeremy Rogers pic)
The Hyundai driver seized the lead on the second of today’s seven stages to open a 20.1 second advantage over Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala with just 65 kilometres remaining to the finish tomorrow afternoon.
Neuville is in the box seat to add his maiden Rally Australia to wins this season in France, Argentina and Poland, although he’s expected to face a last-ditch charge from a pumped-up Latvala.
Today’s action finished with two runs around the Destination NSW Super Special Stage, with Neuville and Craig Breen (Citroen) sharing fastest time on the first and Ott Tanak (M-Sport Ford) winning the second.
The 1.27 kilometre course positioned between the waters of Coffs Harbour and the Pacific Ocean again attracted thousands of spectators. Event organisers reported large crowds also on the NSW State Forest stages and at the competitors’ Service Park during the day.
“I had to fight and push hard this afternoon to increase the gap again (over Latvala),” a relaxed Neuville said.
He predicted possible rain could complicate the final day and is already considering measuring his run to manage the advantage at the front.
Tanak is third outright, 40.6s off Neuville, while Breen is fourth just over 1min5s adrift.
Tanak ruled out an attack tomorrow, citing a lack of pure pace.
“Today the performance of the car was a little bit better and maybe the same from my side as well,” Tanak said on the eve of his final performance for M-Sport before shifting to Toyota in 2018.
“We are still not there to fight for the victory. We don’t have enough speed. To go for the podium it seems to be okay.”
Earlier, Neuville blasted his way to three stage wins from the five daytime tests around the State forests south of Coffs Harbour.
Nathan Quinn edged into the top 10 as the leading Australian competitor in the WRC field and also held an advantage of more than nine minutes in the CAMS Australian Rally Championship closing round.
Victory tomorrow would mean Quinn wraps up his maiden national title, but disaster struck defending champion Molly Taylor when her Subaru’s engine faltered on the final daytime stage.
Kennards Hire Rally Australia finishes with the live-televised Wedding Bells Power Stage starting at 1.18pm. The official podium presentation will be in the main street of Coffs Harbour from 3.30pm.