Two more stage wins for Andreas Mikkelsen enabled the Norwegian to complete Friday morning’s opening loop of speed tests at Kennards Hire Rally Australia with a 13.7sec lead as his closest challengers hit problems.
Stage info: SS4 / SS5
SS$: Newry 16 1, 10.49km
Newry is totally different to the stages that precede it. It runs through deep forest with barely a place where you can see out above the trees. However, shafts of light shine through the canopy, leaving shadows on the road which make it hard to spot braking points. Potentially damaging tree stumps line the roadsides and the surface is dusty in many places. The route has been heavily revised for this year.
SS5: Raceway SSS 1, 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.
After pushing hard to overcome the handicap of thick gravel on the shire roads and win two of the opening three speed tests in his Volkswagen Polo R, Mikkelsen was quickest through the shortened Newry before topping the times in the short Raceway test.
“A very good morning, just like we wanted,” he said. “I expected the guys behind to be a bit quicker but I think we’ve done a pretty good job from third in the start order. The pace has been comfortable. No moments, just a good attack,” he said.
Dani Sordo provisionally led the chase in a Hyundai i20. However, the Spaniard started Newry two minutes late after getting lost on the liaison section and a 20sec penalty is likely, which would drop him to seventh.
Team-mate Hayden Paddon is half a second behind, the New Zealander admitting his gamble to fit hard compound Michelin rubber to the front of his i20 backfired. He touched several banks and couldn’t keep the car in a straight line.
“You have to try sometimes. It didn’t quite work but we’re still in the fight and we’ll give it a good go this afternoon. Today is about getting through in a good position. Tomorrow is possibly my favourite of the entire season and we’ll give it a really good go,” he explained.
Despite starting first in the worst of the conditions and sweeping the gravel for those behind, world champion Sébastien Ogier climbed to fourth in his Polo R. The Frenchman was 1.0sec ahead of Thierry Neuville, the Belgian suffering wheelspin in his i20.
Mads Østberg completed the top six, despite stalling his Ford Fiesta RS at the start of Raceway, half a second ahead of team-mate Eric Camilli.
Ott Tänak’s good early times were undone with a sticking throttle in his Fiesta RS in Newry. Confusion with his pace notes caused the Estonian to spin, further valuable seconds drifting away as he waited for the dust to clear before continuing.
Lorenzo Bertelli and WRC 2 leader Esapekka Lappi completed the leaderboard.