Valla is one of just two stages that are the same as 2011. It starts on a good road with hardly any loose gravel, but at 5.8km it becomes increasingly slippery. There are also small sections of asphalt. It uses both wide and narrow roads, with half the test in the open and the other half under the trees.
How the action unfolded:
Although Valla is a minnow compared to the 50km Nambucca that preceded it, it was far from easy as the roads were covered in a thick layer of gravel - as several drivers discovered to their cost.
Worst affected was Jari-Matti Latvala who hit a bank near the start and punctured the rear right tyre and damaged the front of his Volkswagen Polo R. He lost over 15sec and slipped behind Mads Ostberg into sixth in the standings.
“We went wide and hit a bank,” explained the Finn. “We hit the front and rear of the car. It didn’t steer, it just went light and stopped turning.”
He lies 3.9sec behind Ostberg and 11.2sec ahead of Volkswagen colleague Andreas Mikkelsen in their fight for fifth. Mikkelsen was also caught out by the same bend.
“I slipped wide in a slow corner and lost a lot of time because I lost the line and speed out of the bend,” said the Norwegian, who completed the test with part of his Polo R’s bumper missing and a tyre partly off the rim.
There were no such issues for Sebastien Ogier who extended his lead to 27.6sec after another win. He was quickest by 2.3sec in his Polo R from Mikko Hirvonen and the Frenchman admitted he benefited from a low start position and cleaner roads.
“Everything is going perfectly,” he told WRC Live at the finish. “The day is long but if it continues like that it will be good. I can’t say that I’m really pushing, but I’m last on the road and taking advantage of that. Just by driving cleanly I’m going fast.”
Hirvonen admitted there was little he could do to stop the Ogier steamroller. “I had a good, steady drive but it’s difficult to make a big gap against him. I’m trying not to make any mistakes,” said the Citroen DS3 driver.
Ostberg was third in his Ford Fiesta RS, the Norwegian struggling with the handling on the slippery roads. “Massive, massive oversteer so it was quite difficult,” he said. “There was a big layer of gravel on the road and it’s cleaning a lot. But they were fantastic stages this morning, really enjoyable.”
Thierry Neuville was fourth in his Fiesta RS to retain third overall, 32.0sec behind Hirvonen. “It unbelievably slippery in many, many corners. I had to slow a bit to finish the stage. There were no clean lines and it was like driving on ice. At the end I was driving too carefully, but at least I’m at the end,” said the Belgian.
Kris Meeke and Mikkelsen completed the top six, Meeke struggling to find a rhythm but refusing to be drawn into battles. “There’s no pressure on me, the only pressure is the pressure I put on myself,” said the Citroen DS3 driver, who is 8.0sec behind Neuville.
Ford Fiesta RRC driver Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari snatched first place after overnight leader Yuriy Protasov spun and lost more than two minutes. Protasov damaged the right of his Fiesta R5 after going off on the second corner and trails Al Kuwari by 1min 22sec. Yazeed Al Rajhi is third, 7m behind Protasov, having restarted after breaking the steering on his Fiesta RRC on Friday.