Meeke moves ahead in Australia
The Citroen driver holds a slender advantage midway through the opening leg
This was a new stage which featured 3km of roads used in the opposite direction last year. It was technical with many surface changes, varying from mud to loose gravel and clay.
The battle for supremacy at the head of the Coates Hire Rally Australia leaderboard intensified further through Friday afternoon’s opening stage, after which just 5.8sec covered the top five drivers.
Fastest time, as in the morning’s opening pass, went to Sébastien Ogier. The Volkswagen Polo R driver was 0.5sec quicker than team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, with Mikko Hirvonen third, a further 2.4sec behind in a Ford Fiesta RS.
Road opener Ogier said the tracks were cleaner than this morning, while Latvala, who bled his car’s brakes before the start, admitted he was too sideways in places and in too high a gear on several occasions.
Third fastest for Hirvonen moved him level with Andreas Mikkelsen in second, the pair 2.0sec behind leader Kris Meeke, who was bemused to drop time in the final half of the stage. Ogier is 2.7sec behind Mikkelsen and Latvala 1.1sec further back in fifth.
Thierry Neuville has Finland-specification dampers fitted to his Hyundai i20. The Belgian felt they did not offer premium traction, but the decision was made with the next two stages in mind.
Citroen replaced the rear differential in Mads Østberg’s DS3 at service but the Norwegian could manage no better than 10th, while Chris Atkinson was disappointed to be more than 13 sec off the pace in his i20. The Australian finished with his car’s sump guard hanging.