(13/9/2013) COFFS HARBOUR – Volkswagen’s Sébastien Ogier, his eyes set firmly on a maiden FIA World Rally Championship for drivers, has dominated the first full day of Coates Hire Rally Australia today.
The Frenchman is hoping to put the title beyond reach this weekend and made his intentions clear by winning all six daytime stages in Tuckers Nob State Forest and Newry State Forest, just south of the Coffs Harbour Rally Hub.
Going into tonight’s two ARMOR ALL Super Special Stages at Brelsford Park, Ogier held an 18.4 second lead over Citroen’s Mikko Hirvonen, winner of the past three Rally Australia events in 2006, 2009 and 2011.
Hirvonen’s teammate Kris Meeke, who’s replacing Citroën regular Dani Sordo this weekend, is a further 7.5 sec. behind in third place.
“I think we can say today has been perfect – a really good start to the rally,” Ogier said at the end of Stage 8, a second pass over the 24.9 km Newry stage.
Dust resulting from recent hot, dry weather continued to challenge the crews and organisers allowed an extra time gap between cars.
“There were more rocks on the road than this morning. There was some dust so for the four-minute gap [between cars], we thank the organisers. It was a tricky one so I’m glad it’s done,” Ogier said.
Hirvonen was much happier at the end of the day than the start, when he and his rivals were finding it difficult to get traction on the slippery stages.
“Really good – I’m really happy. It felt clean and we had a good drive. I just have to wait to see if our time is good enough to stay in the fight,” Hirvonen said.
Ogier’s nearest rivals for the 2013 title are Ford’s Thierry Neuville, 75 points in arrears with three WRC rounds still to run, and his own Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala, another 11 points behind Neuville.
Neuville finished the day in fourth place, nearly 33 seconds behind Ogier, while Latvala is fifth and a further 24 seconds back.
The first car on the road had the hardest task today, sweeping the roads of loose gravel for those behind. The task fell to local Coffs Coast driver Nathan Quinn who is driving the only WRC-specification MINI with the Motorsport Italia team for the first time.
Despite the challenge, he is finding his feet and finished the forest stages in ninth outright, nearly four minutes behind the rally leader but ahead of some WRC regulars.
“It’s been 100 per cent important to have fun and I can guarantee I’m having more fun than the guys fighting for the championship,” Quinn said.
After tonight’s runs over the ARMOR ALL Super Special Stage in the heart of Coffs Harbour, crews tomorrow have a further four forest stages plus two on the Super Special for a total competitive distance of 132.68km.
The tests cover very fast shire roads to the west of Nambucca Heads. Based out of the town of Bowraville, the route includes stages that were popular with not only spectators but also drivers in 2011.
Drivers will certainly be tested, as two of these stages are now combined to produce the massive 50km Nambucca stage, run in the morning and again in the afternoon.
Coates Hire Rally Australia will tally around 350km of competitive stages before the podium in Coffs Harbour on Sunday night.