Volkswagen driver Sebastien Ogier
has extended his lead on Rally Australia this morning.
Ogier had concluded the first full-day of competition on Friday with a 20-second advantage, having won seven of the day's eight tests, and he remained equally dominant on the first loop on Saturday.
In SS11, the 49.90 km run through Nambucca, he was 5.3 seconds up on his closest rival, to take his eighth stage win of the event. The Frenchman then went quickest again in SS12, and now heads into the mid-day service with his lead up to 27.6 seconds.
“This morning was quite important and we were in a good position on the road so had to take advantage of that,” Ogier said. “We got in to a good rhythm and tried to put a good gap on the competition. The stages were like New Zealand a bit this morning and we are enjoying them.”
Hirvonen meanwhile had to settle for second in both SS11 and SS12, reporting that he almost went off near the end of Nambucca 1.
“In the first [test, this morning] Seb was ahead, then we were ahead and then we had a little mistake and nearly went off so I lost a bit of time and was a bit cautious toward the end,” Hirvonen stated. “We have made some changes to the pace notes for the long stage – the roads are quite different to how they were yesterday.”
Behind, in the battle for third, Qatar World Rally Team man Thierry Neuville has extended his slender 0.5 second gap over Kris Meeke to 8 seconds.
“In places, the stages were a lot more slippery than we had expected, but I really enjoyed this morning's driving,” said Neuville, who was fourth fastest in both stages. “Everything is working well and the stages are really beautiful. The long stage [SS11] in particular is really fast and flowing and that is what a driver enjoys the most – the road is really wide and you can attack into the corners.
“We're fighting to keep our third position, all the while keeping a close eye on Jari-Matti [Latvala]. He made a mistake on the last stage [SS12] so the gap is a bit more comfortable now. Everything is going very well for us at the moment.”
“We're here to drive a clean rally – and steady,” Meeke explained. “The last stage we were a little bit slow but it's nice to know I'm in the game but I'm here to be consistent. It's difficult to manage the pace but I've really enjoyed it this morning. There is a bigger picture and I've been told I have to finish – I'm not here to risk anything. The car is still in the same shape as at the beginning of the rally. We will adjust the setup a little as there is room for more grip.”