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Friday 18 November
Polo R driver Mikkelsen led on Friday night, 15.4sec ahead of his team-mate Sébastien Ogier, after heading the leaderboard for most of a hot and dusty day in New South Wales. The Norwegian [main picture] won five of the opening six stages and survived a bizarre mid-stage incident when a water bottle came loose and got stuck between his feet.
Thick gravel hampered early starters and third in the order was not ideal for Mikkelsen but he fared better than Ogier, who opened the road. The world champion trailed in eighth initially, but climbed the order as rivals hit problems. Cleaner roads when the stages were repeated enabled the Frenchman to bounce back and claim second.
Thierry Neuville, Mikkelsen’s main rival for championship runner-up spot, was third in a Hyundai i20. A shrewd gamble on hard tyres enabled Hayden Paddon to lead after the second stage, but he slipped to fourth when their performance tailed off. Mads Østberg was fifth ahead of Ford Fiesta RS team-mate Eric Camilli. Dani Sordo led the chase of Mikkelsen initially but started a stage late after getting lost on the liaison section and a 20sec penalty relegated him to eighth.
Jari-Matti Latvala was the day’s major victim. He clipped a bridge in the opening stage and broke his Polo's suspension. He conceded nearly eight minutes limping through the next four tests before repairs could be made.
Saturday 19 November
Mikkelsen retained the lead after the second leg but his hopes of ending his Volkswagen career with a win hung by a thread after a last stage problem slashed his advantage to just 2.0sec
The Norwegian's advantage was almost erased when his car's clutch pedal bent and pushed down on the brake pedal. Mikkelsen drove more than half the 14.84km stage with the brakes on and conceded 9.2sec to Ogier.
Paddon was first to attack Mikkelsen in the opening Nambucca stage. The Kiwi relegated Ogier to third after a stirring drive through the 50.80km marathon. When it was repeated in the afternoon Ogier piled on the pressure, demoting Paddon and closing on Mikkelsen before the Norwegian’s drama. With the thermometer climbing above 35˚C tyre wear became an issue for all drivers.
Paddon ended 10.0sec behind Ogier, but team-mate Neuville fell away from the podium battle after an incorrect tyre choice. Sordo climbed two places to fifth, relegating Camilli in the opener and Østberg later.
Sunday 20 November
Mikkelsen clinched an emotional victory as Volkswagen bowed out of the WRC with a 1-2 finish. He repelled a fierce attack from Ogier, who spun away his victory chances on the day's second stage, to seal his third career win by 14.9sec.
Ogier had reduced Mikkelsen's lead to just three-tenths midway through the long Bucca stage before spinning and allowing Mikkelsen to ease through the final three tests. But it wasn’t enough to secure the Norwegian the runner-up position in the drivers’ standings. Third place for Neuville, a further 57.7sec behind, clinched him second in the drivers’ championship behind the already-crowned Ogier.
Paddon had an outside chance of victory in third but his i20 swiped a bank and knocked a tyre off the rim. The time loss promoted Neuville onto the podium while the Kiwi slipped to fifth, but later overhauled team-mate Sordo for fourth by 1.6sec.
Østberg couldn’t keep Sordo behind after dust inside his Ford Fiesta RS impaired visibility and he finished sixth.