COFFS COAST (NSW) – Jari-Matti Latvala pinched the Kennards Hire Rally Australia lead but is looking over his shoulder after Toyota teammate Ott Tänak unleashed a scorching charge to second place in an intensifying FIA World Rally Championship battle on the New South Wales Coffs Coast this morning.
PHOTO: Toyota’s Finnish ace Jari-Matti Latvala drove aggressively to grab first place on Kennards Hire Rally Australia this morning (Jeremy Rogers pic)
Latvala seized a 3.2 second lead in his Toyota Gazoo Racing Yaris after the four morning stages before heading into the midday service on the second day.
The final showdown for 2018 remains full of intrigue with both the Rally Australia win and the WRC driver’s title still very much in the balance.
Estonia’s Tänak started the day fifth outright, but went on a mesmerising run to be quickest on special stage 10, Welshs Creek, the longest of the day at 28.83km.
He then maintained the blistering pace to top the next stage, the 21.28km of Urunga, and the Raleigh Special Stage 1.99km run to surge into second place outright.
Overnight leader Mads Ostberg has dropped to third in his Citroën, eight seconds back.
Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon claimed his first stage win of rally, topping the day-opening Argents Hill (13.13km), and is hanging on resolutely to fourth outright ahead of Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi.
With Championship hope Tänak threatening, the other two drivers in the WRC title fight, five-time champion Sébastien Ogier (M-Sport Ford) and Thierry Neuville (Hyundai), are sixth and 10th outright respectively.
While Ogier is currently well out of the Rally Australia fight, he is crucially holding a buffer over Neuville and protecting his three-point lead in the standings.
Neuville had been struggling to stay in touch from his less-than-favourable starting position on the road.
His woes were compounded on special stage 11 when he struck a bank and damages the right-rea of his Hyundai i20 Coupe.
The morning proved horrendous for Citroen’s Craig Breen, who had already tumbled from second to fifth outright before a heavy impact saw him limp home on special stage 11 with damage to the left rear.
He repaired the car to make it roadworthy enough to make the liaison stage to Raleigh.
The Irishman is now 10th.
Andreas Mikkelsen re-entered the event after rolling his Hyundai yesterday, his team completing a laborious night-time repair.
The second day continues with a repeat of the four morning stages and two more early-evening runs through the harbourside Destination NSW Super Special Stage.
TOP 10 WRC AFTER SS12:
1 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota) 1:29:32.3s
2 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Toyota) +3.2s
3 Mads Ostberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroen) +8s
4 Hayden Paddon/Sebastian Marshall (Hyundai) +12.3s
5 Esapekka Lappi/ Janne Ferm (Toyota) +31.8s
6 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (M-Sport Ford) +1:12.1s
7 Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (M-Sport Ford) +1:25.7s
8 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (M-Sport Ford) +1:54.7s
9 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai) +2:04s
10 Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen) +5:46.5s