Jari-Matti Latvala claimed the lead of Kennards Hire Rally Australia on Saturday morning – but immediately came under pressure from Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Ott Tänak.
Stage info: SS11/12
SS11: Urunga 1, 21.28km
Urunga runs through deep forest with barely a place where you can see out above the trees. However, shafts of light shine through the canopy, leaving shadows on the road which make it hard to spot braking points. Potentially damaging tree stumps line the roadsides and must be avoided at all costs. It’s a tricky and twisty test apart from the final 6km, which use a wide road and are much faster.
SS12: Raleigh 1, 1.99km
First driven two years ago, Raleigh is on a purpose-built track used for karting, drifting and rallycross. It is tackled in the opposite direction to last year, and two small sections of gravel break up the asphalt. It’s a great venue for fans, with grass banks rising above the track providing great viewing.
The Finn, third overnight, demoted Mads Østberg in the 21.28km Urunga speed test, the third of the morning’s four. Tänak, desperate to keep his slim title hopes alive, was hot on Latvala’s heels, only 3.2sec behind after claiming a hat-trick of fastest times in his Yaris.
“The championship is definitely not in our hands so there is no point thinking about that, but we are doing all we can. Still enough stages left for the rally win,” said the fired up Tänak.
Østberg cut a dejected figure in his Citroën C3. “It’s just hard to match the Toyotas. I have some new tyres that might help this afternoon,” said the Norwegian, who failed to set a top three time this morning. He trailed Tänak by 4.8sec.
Hayden Paddon was a further 4.3sec behind in fourth in a Hyundai i20, the Kiwi only 12.4sec off the lead.
Craig Breen’s hopes of staying with the leaders ended with a spin 15km into Urunga. His C3 swiped a bank and the Irishman limped to the finish with damage to the rear left wheel and suspension, dropping 1min 20sec.
After making roadside repairs, the Irishman conceded a further 30sec in the short Raleigh test and plunged to the foot of the top 10 after incurring almost four minutes’ of penalties for late arrival at the test.
His problem allowed Esapekka Lappi to climb to fifth in another Yaris. The Finn held a comfortable advantage over Sébastien Ogier, whose hopes of a sixth consecutive title received a further boost when principal challenger Thierry Neuville hit a bank in Urunga.
The impact broke his i20’s rear right suspension arm and the Belgian worked furiously to make repairs ahead of the Raleigh test (below). Ironically, he climbed to ninth as a result of Breen’s troubles, but trails Ogier by 51.9sec.
Ogier’s Ford Fiesta team-mates, Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen, sandwich the pair in seventh and eighth, with Neuville less than 10sec adrift of Suninen and another place up the order in his increasingly desperate bid for vital championship points.