Jari-Matti Latvala will lead going into the final day of Rally Australia with his Ford Abu Dhabi team-mate Mikko Hirvonen second. However with Hirvonen still in with an outside chance in the drivers' championship, the positions are almost certain to be reversed on Sunday should the 'Blue Oval' remain 1-2 and well ahead of Petter Solberg in third.
In contrast to yesterday, blue skies and bright sunshine greeted competitors this morning, and while the roads were mostly dry, there were damp patches beneath the dense tree cover. Hirvonen headed the start order and while the damper areas provided good grip, the drier sections were covered in loose gravel. As such he had play the 'road sweeper' leaving a cleaner and faster line for those behind.
Latvala immediately took advantage and in the opening Welshes test [SS11], he seized the opportunity to move up from P2 to P1. Jari-Matti then headed Hirvonen in a Ford 1-2 through the Grace and Valla tests, before completing his clean sweep of stage wins in Urunga, SS14. Latvala thus returned to the mid-day service with a 17.2 second cushion.
On the repeat loop this afternoon, the 26-year-old continued to stretch his lead and following two more runs through the Coffs super specials this evening he now lies 22.7 seconds ahead.
Latvala is more than aware though that team orders are likely to come into force on Sunday: “Tomorrow will be demanding being first on the road,” he told the official WRC site. “We don't know how much the rain on Friday's has affected tomorrow's stages but we will find out in the morning. I have a passion to win - but I know the situation Mikko is in, so I will help him but we have to see what happens first.”
“The roads were much drier than we expected after yesterday's rain and first in the start order was a slippery place to be,” Hirvonen added. “Even in the forest areas the roads were only damp, rather than wet. It was trickier than I thought and because the roads were drier than anticipated, our car set-up was perhaps too soft this morning. The afternoon was also not easy. There were no clean tracks because the cars lower down the entry took a different line through the corners during their first pass, and messed up the clean route that had been created.
“Tomorrow morning Jari-Matti will sweep the road for us but we must be careful because there are some tricky places in the long stage. The roads are fast and narrow and I must be brave and put full trust in my pace notes.”
Petter Solberg meanwhile is still well on course for the final podium place in his privately entered Citroen DS3 WRC, although the gap to the Ford's remains pretty much identical to what it was at the end of the opening day.
“It's been a very good day” said Petter. “I was a bit disappointed this morning, but this afternoon made up for that. I didn't really get to find the balance at first, but it got a lot better this afternoon. It feels good to have the same speed as the others, and knowing that I'm able to keep up with them. It's a long day to go tomorrow, and I will push as much as possible!”