Sébastien Ogier snatched fastest time in Thursday morning’s sun-kissed shakedown at Kennards Hire Rally Australia.
It was tight at the top of the timesheets, but the championship leader’s final run through the 5.07km Bucca test was sufficient to edge the tying Andreas Mikkelsen and Ott Tänak by two-tenths of a second.
Tänak and Toyota Gazoo team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala set the pace in the opening run though the forested gravel road test in their Yaris World Rally Cars. Tänak and the third Yaris of Esapekka Lappi then lowered the benchmark during their second runs.
Times continued to tumble as competitors cleaned the roads of loose gravel. Ogier powered his Ford Fiesta to the stop of the standings in his third pass, slicing more tenths from his personal best in his fourth and final run.
Mikkelsen was one of the busiest of the frontrunners, completing six runs in his Hyundai i20. The Norwegian ended level with Tänak, both posting their best times in their fourth runs.
“It’s a nice shakedown, very representative of the stages,” said Tänak. “We also have a couple of stages on the same pieces of road, so it was nice to get a feeling on how everything is working.
“The main thing will be the weather. It looks like it’s changing all the time and difficult to predict what’s coming,” added the Estonian, aware of forecasts which suggest rain tonight and into tomorrow’s opening leg, which could have a significant effect on who benefits from their start position.
Title challenger Thierry Neuville was a tenth further behind in fourth in an i20. The Belgian is using an upgraded engine for the first time, fitted with a 2019-specification cylinder head.
Craig Breen’s Citroën C3 and Hayden Paddon’s i20 completed the top six, with less than a second blanketing the sextet.
Leading times were:
|1.||Sébastien Ogier||Ford Fiesta||2min 53.8sec|
|2.||Andreas Mikkelsen||Hyundai i20||+ 0.2sec|
|2=||Ott Tänak||Toyota Yaris||+ 0.2sec|
|4.||Thierry Neuville||Hyundai i20||+ 0.3sec|
|5.||Craig Breen||Citroën C3||+ 0.8sec|
|6.||Hayden Paddon||Hyundai i20||+ 0.9sec|
|7.||Jari-Matti Latvala||Toyota Yaris||+ 1.1sec|
|8.||Esapekka Lappi||Toyota Yaris||+ 1.2sec|
|9.||Teemu Suninen||Ford Fiesta||+ 1.3sec|
|10.||Elfyn Evans||Ford Fiesta||+ 1.4sec|