Jari-Matti Latvala regained the lead of Kennards Hire Rally Australia on Sunday morning after a mistake from team-mate Ott Tänak relegated the Estonian to second.
Stage info: SS19-21
SS19: Coramba 1, 15.55km
Coramba is fast all the way, with plenty of long straights and quick corners to test the brave. It climbs initially on roads that are unusually rough, but it is smooth for the rest of the way, apart from another rocky section from 12 - 13km. It’s forested throughout, with ‘kickers’ breaking up the rhythm everywhere.
SS20: Sapphire 1, 19.27km
Plenty of familiar roads from previous years strung together into a new stage. It is fast throughout and runs primarily among the trees. A rough hairpin bend at 15.6km interrupts the pace but that is the only time the speeds drop until a more technical 500 metre section that leads into the finish.
SS21: Wedding Bells18 1, 7.16km
Wedding Bells is so named because a gold miner took his new bride there for their honeymoon. It is fast but narrow in places and the surface is clay, with little loose gravel for the early starters to worry about. It is best known for a popular spectator area which features a jump, followed by a watersplash and right bend on a second visit, just before the finish.
The rain that had been forecast in the Coffs Harbour region all weekend finally arrived overnight and the forest roads north of the town were treacherously slippery - as Tänak found to his cost in the Sapphire speed test.
He was one of several drivers caught out by a greasy left bend in the morning’s second special stage and his Toyota Yaris slithered into the trees. It took almost 20sec to regain the road, allowing Latvala back into a lead he lost yesterday.
“I was stuck in reverse gear for a bit, what can I say? For sure it’s not easy,” said Tänak, who ended the loop 5.0sec behind his colleague. Victory is essential for Tänak’s title hopes and Latvala knows he may be required to yield top spot in the final loop.
Sébastien Ogier remained in control of his title destiny. The Frenchman retained sixth in his Ford Fiesta, and that would be enough for a sixth consecutive title, irrespective of Tänak’s fortunes and the bonus points available in the final Power Stage.
“In the dry it was challenging, but in the wet it was worse because it’s difficult to judge the grip. There are some super slippery sections and it’s not a relaxing Sunday morning for sure,” said Ogier.
Thierry Neuville is the third driver in the title decider Down Under but the Belgian could not improve on his overnight eighth after a ragged loop in a Hyundai i20. He clipped a bank in the opening Coramba test before being caught out at the same corner as Tänak.
Hayden Paddon retained third in a i20, 14.6sec behind Tänak, and the Kiwi was fastest in Sapphire. He held a comfortable advantage over Mads Østberg’s Citroën C3 and Esapekka Lappi’s Yaris. The latter won the Wedding Bells18 test, the last of the loop.
Craig Breen was another to suffer a troubled morning. He slid into the trees and later spun in Sapphire, before a more serious excursion into the trees in Wedding Bells18, which required roadside repairs to stem an oil leak after the finish.