This new test mixes tight and twisty sections with fast, flowing roads. It is twisty for the opening 2.5km, on good roads with little surface gravel and cambered bends. The stage then opens and becomes faster with more loose gravel and a couple of big high speed jumps. The last 2km are in the open, which gives spectators great views of the cars.
How the action unfolded:
Volkswagen’s Sebastien Ogier moved into the lead of Rally Australia on Friday’s opening stage, having overturned the early advantage of his team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen.
As many crews struggled in the slippery gravel of Tuckers Nob, Ogier made the most of his start position of ninth on the road, to set the fastest time and pull a 3.3sec lead. “For sure it’s an advantage to be back in the road order,” Ogier said at the finish control. “It wasn’t really a great drive from me, but it’s a good start to the rally.”
Citroen DS3 driver Mikko Hirvonen was second fastest, 2.9sec adrift of Ogier’s time to move up to second overall. “No grip whatsoever in there,” reported the Finn, who is fifth in the running order. “For sure it will get better for the boys behind, but I’m doing all I can in my position.”
Qualifying stage winner Kris Meeke was third fastest, and surprised that his position of tenth in the start order hadn’t been more beneficial. “Maybe the position helps in some corners but there doesn’t seem to be hard base to the road, so it’s not as much of an advantage as I thought. It’s okay though, I’m here to finish the rally, not to win it.”
Driving the Rally Australia stages for the first time, Mads Ostberg was fourth quickest and concentrating on getting used to the conditions. “An okay start, but it was very slippery, very tricky, and I had a lot of oversteer,” he said. “It’ll take a bit of time to adjust but if I’m just 1.9 behind Mikko at this point then that’s a good start.”
Another newcomer to Australia, Mikkelsen rounded off the top five times with a cautious start. “Very, very slippery. I didn’t expect that. I lost some time in the beginning, but after that some sections were okay, some I was too careful. It’s still early in the rally,” he said.
An anxious Thierry Neuville was sixth fastest, the Belgian concerned that his new pace notes were too fast for the road conditions. “I felt like I was driving just on gravel and stones,” he said. “There was no traction and my lines were not the best. Not a good start.”
After struggling on Thursday’s qualifying stage, Jari-Matti Latvala remained dissatisfied with his performance. “It was quite slippery, worse than I had expected, and I spun – my first full spin in the Polo,” he said. “We were okay speed wise, but it was a cambered corner and that pulled us around. We lost about five seconds with that, and about the same with my driving.”
Coffs Harbour resident Nathan Quinn steered his Mini JCW though in the 11th fastest time, almost 29 seconds slower than Ogier, but 0.9sec quicker than WRC regular Khalid Al Qassimi. “It might not have been fast but that was a ball. Sixth gear in a World Rally Car - a dream come true!” said Quinn.