How did the world rally car drivers fare at Kennards Hire Rally Australia? Here's part one of our review:
Winning this rally from first on the road was always going to be a tall order, but Seb [above] came close to re-writing the form book one last time with the Polo R. The Frenchman dropped to eighth after sweeping his way through Friday's opening trio of stages, but a terrific push in the afternoon kept him in touch with the lead. He stayed at maximum attack on Saturday too, before Mikkelsen's pedal problem in Valla opened the door wide open. Starting Sunday only two seconds off the lead, few doubted his chances of rounding off his VW career with another win - before the spin on SS20 ended his charge. Gracious in defeat, Ogier collected one final prize for Wolfsburg on the Power Stage.
This was another positive rally for the Belgian who rounded off the season with a fifth consecutive podium finish, two stage wins and bonus points in the Power Stage. Second on the road on Friday and Saturday, Neuville faced conditions that were almost as slippery as those confronting Ogier ahead, and he had to throw his Hyundai all over the road to try and stay in the Frenchman's grippier lines. An over-cautious tyre choice on Saturday morning lost him ground in the battle with Hayden Paddon for third, but when his team-mate hit trouble on Sunday morning Neuville was the chief beneficiary. Runner-up in the drivers' championship was the icing on the cake.
Mads had a decent road position on Friday and Saturday but wasn't able to turn this to his advantage. He struggled to find a comfortable driving rhythm on Friday and although things improved on Saturday morning - when he netted a second-fastest time in SS13 - his eagerness to experiment with the set-up of his Fiesta RS backfired soon afterwards. Returning in the afternoon with a set-up that was too hard, he gave away time to the chasing Dani Sordo and later lost the position to him.
This was the last chance for Mikkelsen to prove himself with Volkswagen and he ended up delivering the performance of his life. Calm and confident as he stretched ahead on Friday and Saturday, everything was looking good until the bizarre incident on SS16 when his car's clutch pedal slammed on the brakes. But as Ogier drew closer - just 1.8sec adrift after SS17 - so Mikkelsen's determination soared. On Sunday's opener, Settles Reverse, Mikkelsen was absolutely in the zone - repelling Ogier's attack and forcing another big push on Bucca which was to end Ogier's challenge. There's no word yet on where Mikkelsen will be in 2017 - but this well deserved victory will surely have boosted his chances of securing a drive.
Fifth was a frustrating end to the season for Sordo, who really should have been fighting for a podium. Placed second after SS4, he was hit with a 20-second penalty for arriving late to the stage start after he and co-driver Marc Marti got lost on the road section from the previous test. The penalty dropped them to seventh and knocked the Spaniard's confidence. A close fight with Østberg gave him a focus on Saturday and although he won that battle - and a point on the Power Stage - he fell short of the podium by less than 16 seconds and was left wondering what might have been.