Although much of this test is new, there are sections used on the last visit here in 2011. It is fast and flowing, with plenty of loose gravel on the surface. There are narrow sections between the trees which will catch out anyone who makes a mistake.
How the action unfolded:
Mads Ostberg counted himself lucky to stay in Rally Australia after hitting a rock so hard that the driver's door of his Ford Fiesta RS flew open.
The Norwegian encountered the rogue rock in the road in a right corner and while other drivers reported near misses, Ostberg hit it full on with the side of his car.
“I hit it sideways and the door flew open. We almost went off the road into the trees. It’s a good job I hit it sideways because if I had hit it with the front of the car, then that would have been it,” he explained.
Thierry Neuville was also fortunate to emerge unscathed. “I saw a big rock and a smaller one. I was able to avoid the big one and drove over the small one with the middle of the car. I was lucky not to hit the bigger one,” admitted the Belgian.
Neuville’s escape helped him set second fastest time behind Sebastien Ogier, who maintained his winning run with a sixth straight stage win.
“I think we can say that the day was perfect. It’s not an easy stage and the dust was hanging,” said the Volkswagen Polo R pilot, who praised the organisers for further extending the gap between cars from three to four minutes for safety reasons as the still air left dust clouds floating among the trees.
Ogier finished 2.8sec ahead of Neuville, with Mikko Hirvonen 5.3sec behind in third in his Citroen DS3. Ogier’s advantage over Hirvonen is 18.4sec with just two passes over the short Coffs Harbour super special stage remaining tonight.
Hirvonen was buzzing after one of his best days of the season. “I’m really happy with my pace. It was clean and a good drive. I just have to hope it’s enough. I hope Ogier doesn’t take too much time out of me so I can stay in the fight,” said the Finn.
Jari-Matti Latvala was fourth in his Polo R to move ahead of Ostberg and Andreas Mikkelsen into fifth after an improved afternoon. “It’s been a character building day and we have been learning, so let’s take something from that,” said Latvala, who struggled on the gravelly roads this morning.
Kris Meeke was 9.6sec behind in fifth and his advantage over fourth-placed Neuville was almost halved. “The surface was loose and there’s no advantage from my road position. It may even be worse for us at the back. In some corners the car was sucked down to the road and then it spits you right or left,” he said.
Sixth-fastest Evgeny Novikov completed the stage with the brake discs on his Fiesta RS glowing red hot, while Andreas Mikkelsen had concerns.
“The car felt really strange on the left. I thought it was a puncture but it came to a point where it didn’t get worse and it didn’t get better. There was no traction out of corners. I will have to stop on the road and have a look,” explained the Norwegian.
The test claimed WRC 2 leader Yazeed Al-Rajhi who broke the steering in his Fiesta RRC after hitting a bank. Yuriy Protasov now heads the category.