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PHOTO: Australian Nathan Quinn, Day 3 (Jeremy Rogers photo)

(Event release, 15/9/2013)  JUST 63km of competitive stages through the forests of the NSW Coffs Coast lie between Volkswagen’s Sébastien Ogier and his first FIA World Rally Championship.

With just three stages remaining in the 2013 Coates Hire Rally Australia, the Frenchman has an enviable record of 15 wins in the 19 stages run thus far.

He came into this final day with a buffer of nearly 51 seconds over Citroën’s Mikko Hirvonen, and has now increased that lead to 53.3 seconds.

Hirvonen, who has won the event three times previously, is not in contention for this year’s drivers’ title. That position belongs to Ford’s Thierry Neuville, 75 points shy of Ogier’s tally and currently in third place on the event, 29.5 seconds behind Hirvonen.

Many of those in the top 10 adopted a more cautious approach through this morning’s stages but not Ogier and those closest behind him. The 22.24km Wedding Bells, north of Coffs Harbour, proved very popular with several drivers. Ogier won the stage, but Neuville was just 1.4 second slower.

“I enjoyed that,” said Neuville.

“I have a lot of confidence, my pace notes are good and I have found a good rhythm. Now we have to stay like this all the way to the finish.”

Ogier’s Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala was third fastest in that test and was very happy with the result.

“That was really enjoyable, for me probably the best stage of the rally,” Latvala said.

“The roads were a bit more open, and even in the forest sections it was very quick and a bit like Finland, so it suits my driving style.”

However the day, and the event, seemingly belong to Ogier and while he knows what is now within his grasp, he is also only too aware that things can go wrong.

Victory and bonus points for first or second fastest in the final Power Stage would be sufficient for the Frenchman, who was his usual calm self at the finish of the morning stages.

“They are nice stages this morning,” Ogier said.

“Today I haven’t been pushing – the aim is to just cross the line so I am not going crazy and you have more time to think when you’re not pushing. The car is going okay so should be good for the last three stages.”

Hirvonen’s dream of yet another win in Australia has all but gone. A measured drive over the last few stages will reward him with another second place, a position he has already played to Ogier twice this year.

“Second is the target. Everyone is just monitoring their speed and making sure they don’t make any mistakes and just finish. The stages today were alright. I didn’t like the second one so much but we made it through – so that’s okay. Today has long straights, lots of trees and flat-out corners.”

Coffs Coast local Nathan Quinn continues to enjoy his first ever run in a WRC car. He’s eighth overall in his Motorsport Italia-prepared Mini John Cooper Works, 11 minutes behind Ogier but a full two minutes ahead of WRC regular Khalid Al Qassimi (Citroën), with WRC 2 star Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (Ford) rounding out the top 10.

“I think I’m having fun – and I’m smiling all day every day,” said Quinn.

“The team is really good and the car is fantastic – we’ve been having a ball and this is a dream come true for me. Three stages to go! The car has power, makes all the right noises, goes sideways and even makes me look good doing what I’m doing.”

The teams are heading back to the forest this afternoon for a repeat of the morning’s three stages, with the final test – the 29.44km Shipmans II – the Power Stage, which offers bonus points for the three fastest drivers.

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.