SS9: Neuville attacks

Thierry Neuville ate into team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen’s Kennards Hire Rally Australia lead in Saturday morning’s opening Nambucca speed test.

Stage info: SS9

Nambucca 17, 48.89km
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. It has been lengthened from 2016 with a new 2.25km segment at the finish.

The Belgian was fastest through the marathon special stage in his Hyundai i20 to cut the deficit to Mikkelsen by 4.5sec to 15.6sec.

The farmland shire roads were wet and muddy for the opening 10km after heavy morning rain, but conditions dried further into the stage. Both drivers sported soft compound tyres on their cars to varying degrees, but Neuville appeared to have the better option.

His i20 was fitted with soft tyres all round, while Mikkelsen mixed hard and soft compounds and admitted he could have done no more to repel his colleague.

“I was flat out. We are on different tyre strategies so we’ll see for the rest of the weekend how that works. I don’t think mine was optimal in there but I’m saving my softs for later,” he explained.

Neuville’s only problem was the heat inside his i20. “I pushed quite hard and tried to do a good stage but I was quite disturbed by my sweating. I was sweating like hell and sometimes I lost concentration,” he said.

Jari-Matti Latvala separated the duo in the stage, second quickest in his Toyota Yaris and 3.9sec slower than Neuville’s winning pace. He relegated Kris Meeke to fourth and there was a twinkle in the Finn’s eyes at the finish.

“I definitely had a big attack. At the beginning maybe I was a bit too aggressive but then I started to get the rhythm. When conditions are like this you have to take chances,” he said.

His advantage over Meeke’s Citroën C3 in the overall standings was 3.5sec. The Briton had no problems but admitted fourth fastest time was the best he could do. “The guys were just faster and that’s it,” he said.

Ott Tänak was fifth in his Ford Fiesta to move ahead of Craig Breen into fifth in the standings.

Stéphane Lefebvre lost time early in the test when he spun and stalled his engine. The Frenchman reported a strange feeling with his Citroën C3 for the rest of the stage.

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