SS4/5: Mikkelsen marches on

Andreas Mikkelsen extended his Kennards Hire Rally Australia advantage on Friday afternoon despite Thierry Neuville halting the Norwegian’s run of fastest times.

Stage info: SS4 / 5

SS4: Pilbara 2, 9.71km
A new 3.51km section at the start ushers in roads that are familiar from previous years. The initial part features two watersplashes before switching to a harder surface. It is fast all the way, with plenty of long straights and quick corners to test the brave. Trees have been felled to give improved vision and the surface is smooth throughout

SS5: Eastbank 2, 19.05km
A new stage for 2017, although parts were driven in the opposite direction 12 months ago. It is moderately rough at the start and finish but smoother elsewhere. It mixes fast roads with big sweeping corners and tighter more technical sections.

Mikkelsen sealed his fourth consecutive stage win in the repeat of the Pilbara speed test. His hopes of securing a clean sweep of today’s eight stages ended in the following Eastbank, when he was edged out by a tenth of a second by the Belgian.

The Hyundai i20 driver’s lead over Kris Meeke rose to 18.7sec. Meeke’s Citroën C3 was missing its front aero, one of several drivers to again fall foul of a rough section early in Pilbara.

Neuville climbed to third in his i20, 2.7sec clear of Meeke and demoting Craig Breen to fourth. Breen finished Pilbara with his C3’s rear right tyre off the rim and that ruined his plan to tackle Eastbank with Michelin’s hard compound on all four corners.

Fourth in Eastbank promoted Hayden Paddon into fifth place, relegating Jari-Matti Latvala and Ott Tänak. Latvala smashed his Toyota Yaris’ windscreen against a post and Tänak’s Ford Fiesta shed its rear diffuser for the second time today.

How did the lack of aero affect the car’s handling? “We’re driving looking out of the side windows!” he said.

Team-mate Sébastien Ogier’s electronic gearshift problem returned to hamper his Fiesta. While the Frenchman was second fastest in Pilbara, he dropped 10sec in Eastbank but retained eighth.

Stéphane Lefebvre punctured in Pilbara while Elfyn Evans continued to struggle for grip. The Welshman’s focus switched to another issue when a seal broke going through a Pilbara watersplash and the footwell of his Fiesta filled with water.

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