World champion Sébastien Ogier put doubts into the mind of Kennards Hire Rally Australia leader Andreas Mikkelsen after climbing into second place through the marathon Nambucca speed test and slashing the Norwegian’s advantage by almost five seconds.
Stage info: SS15
Nambucca 2, 50.80km
Nambucca is one of the longest stages of the season. It is fast and flowing with big corners and crests, although there is a 4km area in the middle which is extremely tight between trees. Jumps and small sections of asphalt mean this test has everything. Loose gravel means staying on the clean line will be key.
Road opener Ogier enjoyed cleaner conditions than this morning to go second fastest in his Volkswagen Polo R behind team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala. He relegated Hayden Paddon to third and the 4.6sec he regained from Mikkelsen cut the deficit to 12.0sec.
With temperatures climbing to 35˚C, Nambucca presented a tough physical challenge for the crew and also for the hard compound Michelin tyres that all the front-running drivers selected for the best grip.
Ogier quickly jumped out of his car at the finish to inspect the rubber before saying: “I tried to manage them and they survived quite well. It was a difficult stage, still a bit slippery because the line wasn’t always good, but I looked after the tyres.”
Mikkelsen checked the times and joked: “Seb told me he would help me to get second in the championship, but it doesn’t look like it! It was difficult to know how hard to push. I tried finding a balance but I don’t know how my tyres will be for the next stage.”
Paddon was only sixth in his Hyundai i20. “We always knew Ogier would be on a mission here. We had a good stage. The tyres only started going off about 5km from the end. If I had done much more I might not have got here,” explained the New Zealander.
Midway through the stage Latvala was almost six seconds faster than Ogier but his early attack took its toll on the Polo R’s tyres which were badly worn at the finish.
Mads Østberg’s hopes of reeling in Thierry Neuville for fourth took a knock when he conceded 11.7sec to the Belgian, leaving the gap at 19.4sec. Set-up changes failed to work for the Norwegian, who couldn’t keep the rear of his Ford Fiesta RS in line.
Lorenzo Bertelli completed the stage with a damaged rear right suspension arm in his Fiesta RS.