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 with great views of the cars.
How the action unfolded:
Sebastien Ogier remains unbeaten today after chalking up his fourth consecutive stage victory in his Volkswagen Polo R, extending his lead to 11.7sec over new second-placed driver Mikko Hirvonen.
The Frenchman was 2.7sec ahead of Hirvonen’s Citroen DS3 and relished the improved grip he found on the second pass through this test. His time was more than seven seconds faster, or almost one second per kilometre, than this morning.
“I tried to push because I had a feeling the grip would be good. Nobody wanted to do a stupid mistake this morning and we all wanted to take a look at the notes,” he explained.
Hirvonen had mixed feelings, happy with the cleaner roads but concerned about hanging dust among the trees.
“In places it was better but it feels tougher than this morning. Now dust is a problem. The wind has gone and it’s dusty, so it may be even more difficult for the boys behind. The next stage will be hard,” said Hirvonen, previewing the following Bellingen test which runs almost entirely in a forest.
Thierry Neuville was third in his Ford Fiesta RS, the Belgian also far more content now the loose gravel has been cleared. “There was a lot of grip and when there’s traction I feel comfortable. It’s when it’s slippery that I need to improve my driving. I just hope I wasn’t too hard on the tyres,” he said.
Fourth for Kris Meeke dropped him four-tenths of a second behind Citroen team-mate Hirvonen to third overall, but he was unconcerned. “I’m quite happy. I struggled a bit at the start because I didn’t have the right rhythm, but I’m happy driving at a steady pace and not taking risks,” he said.
Volkswagen duo Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen were fifth and sixth in Polo Rs. After a difficult morning on the slippery roads, Latvala was slightly more upbeat but admitted he was still struggling to find a rhythm.
Qatar M-Sport duo Mads Ostberg and Evgeny Novikov were seventh and eighth in Fiesta RS cars. Ostberg was perplexed at his time after feeling he had driven well, while his Russian team-mate was happier after making changes to his car’s set-up during the mid-leg service.