Bucca is mainly new, but includes parts of the 2011 stage. It is the roughest of the rally - not as rocky as in Greece but rough for Australia - with stones on the road and bedrock poking through the surface for much of the first half. It becomes smoother towards the finish. The clay-based roads are fast, with big straights dotted with crests and jumps.
How the action unfolded:
A strange thing happened in the opening stage of this morning’s third and final leg of Coates Hire Rally Australia – Sebastien Ogier didn’t set fastest time!
The rally leader has won every bush test to date and Volkswagen has been fastest on every stage so far, but Mikko Hirvonen broke the mould by powering his Citroen DS3 to fastest time by just one-tenth of a second.
“It’s a little bit dusty in places. It’s right to have three minute gaps and in some places we could have more as well,” said the Finn.
Ogier is all too aware that a maiden world title is tantalisingly within reach. Victory and bonus points for first or second fastest in the final Power Stage would be sufficient for the Frenchman, who was his usual calm self at the finish.
“Nothing is wrong. We just have to drive this day. There are a lot of kilometres and I have to keep it cool,” said the Polo R pilot. Asked if the title was uppermost in his mind, he added: “It’s close, but there are still five stages to go.”
Jari-Matti Latvala was third in another Polo R, 0.4sec behind Hirvonen. The Finn was clear that he did not plan to challenge Thierry Neuville, 31.0sec ahead, for third in the standings. “I’m getting the rhythm. I don’t want to fight. We’re in a good position now for the manufacturers’ points and it’s time to play a clever role,” he said.
Mads Ostberg was fourth in a Ford Fiesta RS and moved ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen into fifth overall. Mikkelsen was next up and he, too, made it clear he would not fight his fellow Norwegian for position.
“I would love to fight him but I need to look at the bigger picture. We have to think of the manufacturer points,” said the Volkswagen driver.
Neuville rounded off the top six after a drama-free stage but the same could not be said for Khalid Al Qassimi. The Abu Dhabi driver lost time when he clipped a bank and later overshot a bend in his Citroen DS3.
Kris Meeke made the restart today after the Citroen mechanics worked for 2hr 50min last night to repair his battered DS3. “The guys did an incredible job to repair the car. It feels 110 per cent and I can’t thank them enough,” said Meeke.