Volkswagen third driver Andreas Mikkelsen has taken the early lead on Rally Australia following the two runs through the short 1.60 kilometre Coffs super special.
Mikkelsen was quickest on the first run through the test, 0.9 seconds up on Kris Meeke, before then posting the second best time on the repeat, 0.1 seconds behind Sebastien Ogier, despite clipping a barrier.
Mikkelsen will now go into Friday – and the start of the event 'proper' – with a tiny 0.9 second advantage.
"Two short test days, two lots of free practice and the two Super Special Stages today – that's pretty much all the competitive driving I've done with Paul Nagle as my co-driver as yet. So it's just as well that we've proven to be a great team so far," Mikkelsen reflected.
"But the next three days of rallying will be the real test. They're like three rallies rolled into one: narrow and technical on Friday, an open landscape on Saturday and full speed through the forests on Sunday. The surroundings are simply stunning too – I'm looking forward to the next few days.
"And if there is anything I can do to help Volkswagen or Sebastien Ogier
secure the World Championship title, I'll be happy to do it. With that in mind, it's good news that day one went so well for us with first and second place in the Super Special Stages."
Behind, Meeke is second overall in his Citroen
DS3 WRC, ahead of the other two Volkswagen's of Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala.
"Having crashed out of the Rally Germany early on, I'm aiming for another podium finish in Australia," Ogier said. "It goes without saying that I want to win here and bag more important points to help me secure the title of World Champion.
"Qualifying wasn't 100% perfect, but I'm satisfied with how it went. Although Kris Meeke surprised us with his impressive time, we've got a good starting position for the slippery gravel conditions here in Coffs Harbour. After all, what really matters is the rally as a whole, and it only really gets going tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to the Special Stages. The recce showed that some of the Special Stages here are extremely fast, and that's what I enjoy the most. On top of that, the scenery here in Down Under is absolutely fascinating. The only thing I'm a bit worried about is the snakes out in the bush – so I'm glad I'm in a car."
"The Super Special Stages in Coffs Harbour were a brief warm-up," added Latvala. "As of tomorrow, we will face three very different, demanding days – starting with tight, technically challenging routes, followed by fast, flowing sections, then narrow tracks through the forests.
"Qualifying didn't go as well as I'd hoped: I was obviously too cautious with the softer tyres, meaning I have to tackle the stages early on. All is not lost though because the rally is expected to be really tricky for everyone. I wasn't happy with my performance in the last two rallies in Finland and Germany, so I really hope that I can finish well again here and collect as many points as possible for the Manufacturers' Championship."
Mikko Hirvonen rounds out the top five, with Qatar WRT pilot Thierry Neuville the lead M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC runner, followed by team-mates Mads Osbterg and Evgeny Novikov. Khalid Al-Qassimi and Nathan Quinn complete the top ten.
Yuriy Protasov meanwhile heads WRC2 – and lies eleventh overall – 0.5 seconds up Yazeed Al-Rajhi. Hayden Paddon is third.
Rally Australia now continues on Friday, with eight stages on the bill.
SS3, the 8.44 km Tuckers Nob 1 test, is scheduled to begin at 10.03 hours local time [01.03 hours UK time].Rally Australia: Overall standings after Stage 2 (Top 10):
1. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC 2m 45.3s
2. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +00.9s
3. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +01.4s
4. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +01.5s
5. Mikko Hirvonen
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +01.9s
6. Thierry Neuville
Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02.7s
7. Mads Ostberg
Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04.6s
8. Evgeny Novikov
Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +06.5secs
9. Khalid Al-Qassimi
Abu Dhabi Citroen
Total WRT DS3 WRC +08.1s
10. Nathan Quinn
MINI John Cooper Works WRC +10.3sOthers
11. Yuriy Protasov
Ford Fiesta R5 +13.0s
12. Yazeed Al-Rajhi
Ford Fiesta RRC +13.5s
13. Hayden Paddon
Skoda Fabia S2000 +14.3s
14. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari
Ford Fiesta RRC +18.7s
15. Carlos Garcia Fessman
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +24.1s
WRC2WRC2 standings after Stage 2 (Top 3):
1. Yuriy Protasov
Ford Fiesta R5 2m 58.3s
2. Yazeed Al-Rajhi
Ford Fiesta RRC +00.5s
3. Hayden Paddon
Skoda Fabia S2000 +01.3s
None.all times unofficial