12 September 2014
WRC Rally Australia: Meeke takes early lead
Citroen's Kris Meeke completes the opening loop on top - 2.4 seconds up on Andreas Mikkelsen; Mikko Hirvonen lies third, 0.9 seconds further back, with Sebastien Ogier fourth and Jari-Matti Latvala fifth
Citroen's Kris Meeke has taken the lead on Rally Australia this morning winning two of the three stages.
Meeke, who was quickest in the shakedown on Thursday, was third in the opening test, the 10.73 km run through Hydes Creek, but he hit back and won SS2 and SS3 - 1.4 seconds up Thierry Neuville in Bellingen 1 and just 0.3 seconds up on Mikko Hirvonen in Newry 1.
The Ulsterman will now take a 2.4 second cushion over Volkswagen Motorsport II pilot Andreas Mikkelsen into the mid-day service in Coffs Harbour.
“I did the best job I could. When you are eighth on the road you like to think you can lead. We will soldier on and see what happens in the second pass,” Meeke told the official WRC site.
Behind, Mikko Hirvonen is third, just 0.9 seconds off Mikkelsen: “It's been a good start and I'm happy with that. These stages are really tricky so I didn't have a perfectly clean run, but so far it has been good. For sure we had a small advantage with the road position for the last two [SS2 and SS3] but it wasn't as much as I had hoped.
“It's really close so it looks like we will have a proper race on our hands. We're only 3.3 seconds off the lead, but we don't need to panic just yet. There's a long way to go and plenty of time to do something about that.”
Championship leader Sebastien Ogier is fourth in his VW Polo R WRC, 5.1 seconds off Hirvonen and 8.4 seconds off the lead. The Frenchman was quickest in the muddy opening test, which meant it was less of a disadvantage being first on the road. However, with conditions drier in SS2 and SS3 he inevitably lost time.
Jari-Matti Latvala is one spot back in fifth – 0.6 seconds between him and his team-mate – but was not happy with his Polo in SS1.
“I was struggling on the first stage with the brakes, but now everything is okay,” he said after SS3. “The grip is not so bad. We went wide on a couple of bits, but okay really.”
Rallye Deutschland winner Thierry Neuville rounds out the top six in his Hyundai i20 WRC and he is also right up there, just 9.4 seconds off the lead.
Further back, Hayden Paddon is seventh, albeit 12.7 seconds behind his team-mate, with Mads Ostberg and Robert Kubica eighth and ninth.
“These stages are really difficult and although we have a fairly clean line, we have to really stick to it,” said Kubica. “It was quite slippery in places through the first stage [SS1] and we had a spin in a damp, muddy section into a hairpin.
"It was a good run through the second [SS2], and I was surprised how good the grip was at the start of the last one [SS3]. But then it got really slippery [in SS3] and there was a lot of sand. We lost time on every junction and accelerating out of the hairpins. The grip was changing a lot so you have to be careful and really read the road.”
Then it is Chris Atkinson, after a cautious start, while Elfyn Evans and WRC2 class leader Yazeed Al-Rajhi hold 11th and 12th.
“I was just trying to get into a rhythm given it's my first time in the car for six months,” Atkinson said. “I'm reasonably happy with the time, considering. We didn't have any moments out there, but I wasn't going slowly either.”
“It's been a pretty difficult morning,” Evans added. “The first stage [SS1] wasn't too bad but the feeling was that I could go a lot faster. Then on the second one [SS2] we were having a clean enough run until we stalled on a hairpin. The windscreen got covered in dust and it took a while to get the car started again which meant that we lost a chunk of time along with the confidence.
“After that we just couldn't commit and relax behind the wheel and on the last stage [SS3] we lost a lot of time as a result. It's important for us to finish this one so I didn't want to force the issue. Now, I just need to regroup and get back out there to see what we can do this afternoon.”
Rally Australia now continues this afternoon with a repeat-run through this morning's three stages.
Rally Australia: Overall standings after Stage 3 (Top 10):
1. Kris Meeke Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC 27m 44.5s M
2. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +00m 02.4s M
3. Mikko Hirvonen M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 03.3s M
4. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +00m 08.4s M
5. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +00m 09.0s M
6. Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +00m 09.4s M
7. Hayden Paddon Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +00m 22.1s M
8. Mads Ostberg Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +00m 29.3s M
9. Robert Kubica RK M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 31.3s M
10. Chris Aktinson Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +00m 46.1s M
11. Elfyn Evans M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 49.0s M
12. Yazeed Al-Rajhi Ford Fiesta RRC +01m 20.9s WRC2
13. Nasser Al-Attiyah Ford Fiesta RRC +01m 28.2s WRC2
14. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta R5 +01m 33.4s WRC2
WRC2 standings after Stage 3 (Top 3):
1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi Ford Fiesta RRC 29m 05.4s WRC2
2. Nasser Al-Attiyah Ford Fiesta RRC +00m 07.3s WRC2
3. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta R5 +00m 12.5s WRC2
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial
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