Thierry Neuville repelled Jari-Matti Latvala’s challenge to restore a comfortable lead at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on Saturday afternoon.
Stage info: SS12/13
SS12: Welshs Creek, 33.49km
Saturday afternoon’s opener repeats the opening two-thirds of the morning Nambucca test. It is fast and flowing with big corners and crests, although there is a 4km section which is extremely tight between trees. Jumps and small sections of asphalt mean this test has everything.
SS13: Argents Hill, 12.24km
This live TV stage comprises the final part of Nambucca. It is fast and flowing all the way, ending with a 2.25km segment, which mixes a short technical section with fast flowing corners to the stop line.
The Hyundai i20 driver won the Welshs Creek and Argents Hill speed tests to extend his advantage from 6.3sec to 19.0sec, leaving Latvala to admit his hopes of overhauling the Belgian were disappearing.
Neuville delivered a stunning performance in Welshs Creek. In conditions that ranged from bone dry gravel to treacherously slippery mud, he stopped the clocks 9.9sec faster than Latvala, before eking out a further 2.8sec in Argents Hill.
“I got into the first stage, the tyres felt good so I kept going and when it started to get dry I really pushed hard. The next one was more slippery and I struggled a bit with oversteer, so not so much fun,” said Neuville.
“Now I have a good lead but we have to be careful. If the rain comes tomorrow it’s going to be very difficult.”
Latvala posted top three times in both tests but cut a frustrated figure after Argents Hill when he saw the timesheets. Asked if he could still win, the Toyota Yaris pilot replied:
“If Thierry is keeping that speed, no chance. When I’m on mixed tyres the balance of the cars isn’t so great and I’m not as confident as I was this morning. I haven’t been running so much in this car with the mixed tyre package and it seems a bit of an issue for me now.”
Kris Meeke’s podium hopes vanished when he swiped the rear of his Citroën C3 against a Welshs Creek bridge and broke the rear suspension. He retired at the start of Argents Hill, promoting Ott Tänak to third.
The Estonian punctured in Welshs Creek and had to fit a worn soft tyre to his Ford Fiesta for the next test. He held a 25.0sec advantage over Craig Breen in fourth, with Hayden Paddon a further 14.9sec back in fifth.
Sébastien Ogier slid wide into a bank in the final slippery section of Welshs Creek and spun. The impact ripped the bumper from his Fiesta and a chunk of the front splitter. The Frenchman lost 10sec but was up to sixth.
Stéphane Lefebvre spun and stalled his Citroën C3’s engine after a Welshs Creek crest.
The second pass through Newry was cancelled due to a damaged bridge mid-stage, so just two passes through the Coffs Harbour waterfront tests remain this evening.