SS4: Meeke ousts
Sordo to lead

Kris Meeke took the lead of Coates Hire Rally Australia after breaking Dani Sordo’s run of stage victories to win Friday morning’s final test.

Stage info: SS3 / 4

SS3: Northbank 1, 8.42km
This stage starts outside “The Pub With No Beer”, immortalised in the ballad by the same name. After a 500 metre asphalt section it switches to flowing farmland gravel, although there is more asphalt dotted throughout the test. Like the previous stages, the road twists, turns, climbs and descends around banks and headlands.

SS4: Newry Long 1, 29.51km
Newry has been lengthened by 6.5km from last year and is a contrast to the previous tests. The roads are deep in the forest, with barely a place where you can see out above the trees. Shafts of light shine through, leaving shadows on the road which make it hard to spot braking points. Apart from the opening 3.4km, it is narrow with little margin for error.

Sordo completed a hat-trick by beating Meeke through Northbank. But the Ulsterman topped the times in today’s longest stage to head the Spaniard by 3.3sec as drivers returned to Coffs Harbour for service.

“We’ve had a good rhythm,” said Meeke. “We had a bit of a decision with tyre choice. If you’re first on the road then it’s obvious, but if you’re sixth as we are then it’s more complicated. You have better conditions from the sweeping ahead, but a cleaner line offers more grip and the wear is higher.”

Hyundai’s Sordo had enjoyed a perfect morning but was 11.2sec slower than Meeke’s DS 3 and said: “We had a problem with the downshift and stalled at a hairpin. I went down through the gears but the car was still in third and I stalled the engine. I dropped four or five seconds.”

Hayden Paddon was fifth in both tests and is 7.0sec off the lead in his Hyundai i20. He regretted his choice of soft compound tyres and promised more was to come. “I’ll change the set-up, fit new tyres and start to push because at the moment we’re just driving,” he said.

Volkswagen trio Andreas Mikkelsen, Jari-Matti Latvala and Sébastien Ogier filled the next three places with 1.5sec covering them. The final stage contained less loose gravel and they did not suffer the same early running order disadvantage encountered in the previous tests.

Ogier was just 0.4sec behind Meeke’s stage-winning time having failed to break into the top six on any of the previous stages.

Ott Tänak dropped a handful of seconds after stalling at a junction to slip from fifth to seventh. He headed Thierry Neuville, Stéphane Lefebvre and Evans who dropped more than a minute with a rear left puncture after spinning into a bank. The Welshman struggled for confidence all morning and is 1min 40sec off the lead.

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