Bellingen is another new stage and virtually the entire test is under trees. It begins on narrow roads, but is generally fast with a loose surface. There are plenty of dips and jumps and it undulates throughout.
How the action unfolded:
Sebastien Ogier claimed his second consecutive win of the morning but the Frenchman’s advantage over Kris Meeke was just half a second.
The Frenchman extended his lead to 4.4sec and looked relaxed in his Volkswagen Polo R as he pulled up at the finish. “Honestly, I wasn’t pushing, no. My road position helps but I’m just taking it stage by stage,” said Ogier, who is benefiting from roads swept clean by the early starters.
Meeke climbed to second overall in his Citroen DS3, the Northern Ireland driver happier than at the end of the opening stage.
“I had a better feeling in here,” he said. “I had never driven the car in conditions like SS1 before. The road snaked left and right and I have to learn the car. Here the road is different, a lot faster. There was dust hanging in the trees so I have to thank the organisers for extending the gap between cars to three minutes. It creates good competition and it’s safe.”
Team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was third, a further 4.7sec behind, but he was less content than his colleague. “It wasn’t as good as the first one. It was more technical and narrow and I was a bit cautious in places,” admitted the Finn.
Norwegians Mads Ostberg and Andreas Mikkelsen were tied for fourth, Ostberg moving his Ford Fiesta RS ahead of team-mate Thierry Neuville into fifth in the standings. “It wasn’t perfect. It was very, very difficult to find a rhythm but it seems like everyone is struggling,” he said.
Mikkelsen slipped to fourth overall after a cautious drive. “I clipped a rock with the left front at the exit of a corner and I was afraid we had a puncture. I was a bit cautious. It’s a tricky rally but we’re trying to build a rhythm,” he said.
The top six was rounded off by Evgeny Novikov, the Russian hampered by loose gravel on the surface. “It was very slippery. I hope it will be better for the second pass. Maybe the set-up isn’t the best for these conditions but we’re out on the stages now so there’s nothing we can do,” explained the Fiesta RS pilot.
Neuville was next up, the Belgian struggling with visibility issues due to dust on the windscreen of his Fiesta RS. Jari-Matti Latvala, eighth in his Polo R, cut a downbeat figure, the Finn admitting he didn’t think it would be so slippery at third in the start order.