Kennards Hire Rally Australia leader Andreas Mikkelsen preserved his advantage over the attacking Hayden Paddon and Sébastien Ogier though the final two speed tests of Saturday morning’s loop.
Stage info: SS13/14
SS13: Valla 16 1, 14.84km
A flowing 5.9km section through trees has been introduced at the start of Valla. After turning onto familiar territory, the shire roads become wide and open as they cross farmland, crossing several old wooden bridges. An artificial jump near the finish has been removed this year with a new 800 metre section providing the climax to the stage.
SS14: Raceway SSS 2, 1.37km
New for this year, Raceway SSS is on a purpose-built track used for karting, drifting and rallycross. 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.
He repelled the chasing duo to reach the mid-leg service in Coffs Harbour with a 13.6sec lead over Paddon. World champion Ogier was just 3.0sec behind the New Zealand driver with all eyes focused on this afternoon’s second pass through the marathon Nambucca test.
Mikkelsen yielded just over a second to team-mate Ogier and a tenth to Paddon in Valla in his Volkswagen Polo R. He then won the short Raceway before pronouncing himself content with his morning’s work and his choice of hard compound Michelin tyres.
“We did a lot of road cleaning. Seb took a risk with soft tyres which paid off for him. We have kept the gap more or less the same but this afternoon we have to push,” he said.
Paddon couldn’t match his opening stage pace but fourth and fifth fastest in the two tests kept him firmly in contention.
“We struggled a bit in Valla. It was very loose, especially near the start, and the car was sliding too much. Maybe I’m driving too hard and I need to bring it back a notch. We can’t be disappointed, we’re back in the fight,” said Paddon, who sealed the dust holes in his Hyundai i20 with duct tape.
Ogier was third in both stages in his Polo R, the Frenchman happy with his tyre gamble to maximise grip on the dirty gravel.
“I’m completely sure soft tyres were the right choice. We weren’t sure about going with softs but it turned out better than expected. This afternoon there will be issues with tyre wear so I have to be clever,” he said.
Thierry Neuville was fourth in an i20 but slipped back from the podium fight. He was 23.2sec behind Ogier and regretting not opting for soft rubber. Mads Østberg closed to within 7.7sec of the Belgian in a Ford Fiesta RS, with Dani Sordo completing the top six.