Kris Meeke regained the lead of Coates Hire Rally Australia through Saturday’s opening Nambucca speed test as Hayden Paddon vaulted into contention by stopping the clocks fastest through the event’s marathon 50.90km signature stage.
Stage info: SS9
Nambucca 1, 50.80km
Nambucca is identical to last year but with a new 1.88km section at the end. It’s fast and flowing with big corners and crests, although there is a 4km area in the middle which is extremely tight between trees. Loose gravel means staying on the clean line will be key.
Tyre choice was varied as drivers searched for the best mix of rubber and Paddon hit the jackpot with four hard compounds on his Hyundai i20 to win by 4.6sec from Andreas Mikkelsen. He climbed to fifth, just 11.3sec adrift of Citroën DS 3 driver Meeke.
Paddon felt more confident after his Hyundai team identified a differential problem in service last night that had left the Kiwi unhappy with the balance of his i20.
Meeke gambled on soft compound rubber and fourth fastest was enough to promote him into a 2.6sec advantage from overnight leader Jari-Matti Latvala. But he was deflated as he ended the test with badly worn front tyres.
“It was a big gamble and in my road position we should have taken 15 or 20sec out of the other drivers. It was the wrong choice,” said the Ulsterman, who must now tackle the 7.94km live TV Valla stage before he can fit new rubber.
Latvala admitted he was too cautious on the powdery surface in the middle of the stage, but the Volkswagen Polo R pilot held off team-mate Mikkelsen by 0.7sec in the overall standings with Sébastien Ogier a further 0.3sec behind. Just 3.6sec covered the leading quartet.
Third for Ott Tänak promoted the Estonian to sixth in his Ford Fiesta RS, relegating team-mates Dani Sordo, who had no rear brakes, and Thierry Neuville.
Lorenzo Bertelli retired from 10th when the Italian stopped 17.30km into the stage with engine problems in his Ford Fiesta RS.
Latvala in front in Australia
Finn charges into last stage lead
SS6: Latvala hits top gear
Double win promotes Finn to second