COFFS COAST (NSW) – A shrewd tyre call helped World Champion Sebastien Ogier “surf” to an extended lead in Coates Hire Rally Australia after day two today.
Ogier headed Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala by 11.8sec after out-guessing the Finn during this afternoon’s special stages in the Nambucca region, when the threat of rain prompted a myriad of different tyre selections by the FIA World Rally Championship’s leading drivers.
Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia then capped their day by completing a clean sweep of the Hyundai Super Special Stages run over two nights at Coffs Harbour’s international stadium.
Their prizes in the ARMOR ALL Shootout for the fastest aggregate time on the stages were matching custom-made Australian surfboards, which the beaming pair hoisted on to the roof of their car for the large crowd to see before returning to the pre-overnight service.
Competitors took the roads today knowing they will back next year, after the championship promoter overnight announced its 2015 calendar. Rally Australia will be round 10 again, on 10-13 September; event organisers also disclosed they were in negotiations already for 2016-17-18.
Since the start yesterday morning, Ogier has won eight of the 14 special stages.
Tomorrow crews face the final leg north of Coffs Harbour for two identical loops of three stages covering 89.62km. The final Power Stage offers bonus points to the fastest three drivers.
Fighting to overcome an overnight deficit of 0.4 sec, Latvala snatched top spot with fastest time in this morning’s two gravel stages, including the 49 km Nambucca, one of the longest in the 13-round global season.
However, his 4.1sec advantage was wiped out in the afternoon loop. With rain forecast, Latvala fitted two hard-compound Michelin tyres on the front of his Polo R and two softs on the rear.
But the roads remained dry and the Frenchman’s option of three hard and one soft tyre was more matched to the conditions. He finished the second Nambucca pass 9.3sec. up on Latvala and stretched the lead over the rest of the day.
“It was all about tyre choice this afternoon,” Ogier said.
“The meteo (meteorology) was very unsure and there was a risk of thunderstorms, but finally it stayed dry. We had to use one soft tyre but Jari-Matti had to use two so it was even harder for him.
“The car moved a little bit and oversteered in right corners but you have to keep that in mind and be a bit cautious.”
Kris Meeke and Andreas Mikkelsen exchanged positions all day in their fight for the final podium position. Mikkelsen started in third and after four changes in position the Norwegian ended there to provide Volkswagen with a 1-2-3 overnight. The gap between them is 1.5sec.
Meeke enjoyed his day and described Nambucca as one of the best stages in the 13-round WRC.
If Volkswagen continues its podium lock-out tomorrow, it will secure the WRC Manufacturers Championship.
Mikko Hirvonen is fifth, 60.4sec behind Meeke’s Citroen DS3, after his choice of soft tyres all round for his Ford Fiesta RS cost large chunks of time.
He is 41.0sec ahead of Mads Østberg who moved his DS3 into sixth ahead of Hayden Paddon after the Kiwi fended him off all morning.
Thierry Neuville is eighth in a Hyundai i20, despite clipping a pole, with Elfyn Evans moving up to ninth after Robert Kubica dropped more than a minute when he became distracted by a warning light in the cockpit of his Fiesta RS and crashed at a crest.
Frustration continues to stalk local hero Chris Atkinson, who struggled to find confidence in his Hyundai i20 WRC. He finished in 11th and more than seven minutes off the lead.
“It’s not been ideal today. The car has been working well and has a good balance. Unfortunately I just haven’t clicked into a good rhythm,” Atkinson said.
“Once you are off the pace and first on the road, you are on the back foot. Given our road position, we decided to take a risk with the soft tyre but it didn’t really pay off. I wanted to take a few risks today and push more but the feeling and trust wasn’t there. We’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”
Tickets for Coates Hire Rally Australia and the Pedders Suspension Coffs Coast 400 partner event are available at gates at spectator points or before boarding the free Michelin Shuttle bus service at the international stadium. The Michelin Shuttle will take spectators to the VisitNSW.com Rally Village at Flooded Gum on the Wedding Bells stage.
Full event details including entry lists, spectator maps and directions and Michelin Shuttle times are also available on the event website www.rallyaustralia.com.au.
Overall Classification after Day Two:
1. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 2h:03:55.3
2. J.M Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +11.8
3. A. Mikkelsen / O. Floene (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +25.3
4. K. Meeke / P. Nagle (Citroën DS3 WRC) +26.8
5. M. Hirvonen / J. Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +1:27.2
6. M. Østberg / Jonas Andersson (Citroën DS3 WRC) +2:08.2
7. H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC) +2:15.5
8. T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +3:52.4
9. E. Evans / D. Barritt (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +3:59.0
10. R. Kubica / M. Szczepaniak (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:59.2
11. C. Atkinson / S. Prévot (Hyundai i20 WRC) +7:06.1