Andreas Mikkelsen stretched his lead at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on Sunday after closest challenger Sébastien Ogier spun away his victory hopes.
Stage info: SS19/20
SS19: Settles Reverse 1, 6.20km
As the name suggests, Settles is driven in the opposite direction to 2015. It is fast throughout with plenty of long straights and quick corners to test the brave. Trees have been felled near the start to give improved vision and the surface is smooth throughout.
SS20: Bucca 16, 31.90km
Bucca means long and winding in the indigenous language and that sums up this stage. Disused tracks have been opened up to create extra distance and a chicane has been included ahead of a tight right bend following a flat-out straight – the first time Rally Australia has featured a chicane in its history. The surface has suffered in places from rain damage but otherwise it is good and fast throughout.
World champion Ogier conceded six-tenths of a second to leader Mikkelsen in the opening Settles Reverse speed test, north of Coffs Harbour. But his pace through the following dusty Bucca stage closed the gap between the duo to just 0.3sec shortly after the midpoint.
Ogier then spun his Volkswagen Polo R near the finish and completed the test 19.6sec slower than his Norwegian team-mate. Mikkelsen’s lead was up to 22.2sec with three stages remaining.
“It’s OK but we lost maybe 15sec. That’s part of the game,” said Ogier, as he inspected slight damage to the splitter at the front of his car.
Ogier’s error boosts Mikkelsen’s hopes of securing the runners-up spot in the FIA World Rally Championship, but victory may still not prove enough.
“We had a good stage, I pushed really hard but no moments. It wasn’t perfect as I did a couple of mistakes. It’s full concentration right to the end. I’m confident in this type of driving and in a really good mood,” said the focused Norwegian.
It was a disastrous stage for Hayden Paddon. He slid his Hyundai i20 into a bank near the midpoint and the impact knocked the rear left tyre off the rim. He dropped more than a minute and third place quickly turned into fifth.
Team-mate Thierry Neuville climbed to third. If the positions remain the same through the final trio of stages, it would be sufficient for the Belgian to secure the runners-up spot irrespective of the live TV Power Stage bonus points.
A hesitant Dani Sordo dropped behind Mads Østberg in the opening test but moved back ahead again in Bucca as dust inside the Norwegian’s Ford Fiesta RS impaired his visibility. Sordo heads Paddon by six-tenths of a second with Østberg 6.7sec behind the Kiwi.
Lorenzo Bertelli limped to the end of Bucca with only two-wheel drive in his Fiesta RS after breaking the rear differential, while Eric Camilli reported a brake problem in his similar car.