Defending WRC champion Sebastien Ogier heads the leaderboard at the end of day two of Rally Australia.
Ogier began the second leg just 0.4 seconds up on team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala and he slipped back in the morning, with the Finn fastest in both SS9 and SS10, to build a 4.1 second cushion.
However on the repeats, it was Ogier that set the pace aided by a better tyre choice and he promptly went quickest in SS11 and SS12 to pull ahead by 10.3 seconds. The Frenchman then went quickest again in SS13 and SS14, the third and fourth runs through the short Hyundai super special stage and will now head into the overnight service with an 11.8 second advantage.
“That was another good run for us,” said Ogier. “I made a few mistakes and lost a bit of time in the morning, but the afternoon was good again.
“Making the right tyre selection played more of a role than usual today in determining who led at the end of the leg.
“I did not get my selection spot on, but my decision was better than that of my team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala. That allowed Julien [Ingrassia – my co-driver] and me to open up a lead over our rivals on the 50-kilometre 'Nambucca' stage. However, we still have a long day with six special stages ahead of us.
“I obviously want to win, but, with one eye on the Drivers' Championship, will not take any unnecessary risks.”
“A decent morning but a poor afternoon - very bad, a wrong tyre choice and that's it,” Latvala added. “I just want to go to bed now, get some sleep and forget this day. We will then see what we can do tomorrow.”
Speaking back in final service, Latvala added: “We had a perfect morning. I had a very good rhythm, really enjoyed the stages and moved into the lead. During the midday service we had to make our tyre selection for the afternoon – and unfortunately we got it wrong.
“It did not rain as expected. Instead it stayed dry. We had no chance of defending our lead on soft tyres that were overheating on the hard roads and no longer offered us any decent grip.
“But so be it, we have not lost yet and will push hard again on Sunday's 89.62 kilometres of special stage.”
Behind, the fight for third continued in the final two short super specials, with Andreas Mikkelsen getting back in front of Britain's Kris Meeke. Mikkelsen was joint quickest with Ogier in SS13 and then only 0.1 seconds back in SS14. He now lies 1.5 seconds up on Meeke, although the Ulsterman was later hit with a 61-second penalty for cutting a corner too aggressively in SS10. Meeke now drops to fifth, 0.6 seconds up on M-Sport man Mikko Hirvonen.
“As we predicted yesterday, we are having a really good and tight battle with Kris Meeke,” Mikkelsen commented before news of the penalty. “Little mistakes could make all the difference between third and fourth place. We have not made a mistake all rally – with one small exception. We nearly span in a right-hander after a crest on stage twelve. I had to correct to avoid spinning and got the following left-hand bend a bit wrong. That cost two seconds.
“However, we regained the position we lost on the closing two spectator stages. Third place is obviously what I would prefer to see in front of my name tomorrow. However, we have a long way to go before then.”
“It didn't rain [this afternoon] and, as we took the soft tyre, we were expecting it to,” Hirvonen added. “The tyres were completely gone [by the end of the second loop] and it was really tricky. We just had to do all we could not to lose too much time to the boys behind and in that respect I think we did really well.
“There's still a big gap to Mads, and one day to go with some more difficult stages, so let's see what happens.”
Mads Ostberg holds sixth, having got ahead of Hayden Paddon's Hyundai this afternoon. Ostberg is 7.3 seconds in front and was happier with his Citroen after struggling on Friday.
“It's been an okay day for us,” said Paddon. “I always thought I'd enjoy today's stages and it is pure pleasure driving the Hyundai i20 WRC here. There are still places where it's a bit loose and it's difficult to find the right balance of driving. Nambucca is my favourite stage of the rally and it's almost like three stages in one.
“The car has been running well but tyre choice has been quite important. I had one soft tyre on this afternoon which unbalanced the chassis a bit, and I couldn't push as I wanted. We made some improvements to the differential and I could feel the advantage. I am sure we can regain the sixth place tomorrow, especially during the newer sections where we will have a level playing field against the regular WRC guys.”
Further back, Thierry Neuville is eighth – despite losing his front bumper and damaging the bonnet on his Hyundai in SS12.
“I am quite happy with our performance today,” Neuville noted. “We were early on the road and had to do a lot of cleaning but I can't complain. I have had a lot of fun and the stages really put a smile on your face. We have made up two positions during the day, which will be helpful for tomorrow.
“We made a good tyre choice this afternoon and have really made the most of our day. We had a small issue on the repeat Valla stage as we lost the front bumper. We didn't lose any time and it was still a good stage time. I hope we can continue to make up ground during the six remaining stages tomorrow.”
Elfyn Evans and Robert Kubica complete the top ten. Kubica had an off in Valla 2 and then had to complete the Hyundai super specials with two punctured rear tyres and damaged rear suspension.
“We didn't take the right tyre choice for the afternoon. I had both sets in front of me before I left service but because our forecast said that there was a high probability of rain, I went with the soft option which wasn't right for the conditions. It all comes down to experience and I had never been in that situation before,” Kubica stated.
“I knew that the second stage [SS12] would be difficult as we had no tread left on the tyres. I got distracted by the flashing yellow light which we have for safety then, after a fast straight, we were too late under braking with the worn tyres. The car went straight on and we hit a tree.
“Of course the body of the car didn't look quite right, but the rollcage is fine and there are no technical problems so we will be okay for tomorrow and hopefully finish the rally with another good day.”
“We made the wrong choice with the tyres this afternoon,” added fellow M-Sport man Evans. “We were expecting rain, but unfortunately that didn't happen and it was a case of trying to manage the situation. When you're in a stage like that it is very difficult to know how hard to push. At the end of the stage the time wasn't great, but it wasn't a disaster either so I think we have to be happy with that given the circumstances.
“We've had a second loop of checking the notes again and we're pretty pleased with those now; so it's been a productive day in that sense and should see us well placed for the future.”
Of the rest, Chris Atkinson is just outside the top ten, with WRC2 class leader Nasser Al-Attiyah in P12.
“It's not been ideal today,” said Atkinson. “The car has been working well and has a good balance. Unfortunately I just haven't clicked into a good rhythm. Once you are off the pace and first on the road, you are on the back foot.
“I just tried to enjoy the stages, which are really nice, and bring the car to the end of each run. Given our road position, we decided to take a risk with the soft tyre but it didn't really pay off. I wanted to take a few risks today and push more but the feeling and trust wasn't there. We'll see what we can do tomorrow.”
Rally Australia now concludes on Sunday, with six stages on the bill. SS15, Shipmans 1, is due to start at 08.08 hours local time.
Rally Australia: Overall standings after Stage 14 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 2hours 03m 55.3s M
2. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +00m 11.8s M
3. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +00m 25.3s M
4. Mikko Hirvonen M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 27.2s M
5. Kris Meeke Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +01m 27.8s M
6. Mads Ostberg Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +02m 08.2s M
7. Hayden Paddon Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +02m 15.5s M
8. Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +03m 52.4s M
9. Elfyn Evans M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03m 59.0s M
10. Robert Kubica RK M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04m 59.2s M
11. Chris Atkinson Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +07m 06.1s M
12. Nasser Al-Attiyah Ford Fiesta RRC +07m 06.9s WRC2
WRC2 standings after Stage 14 (Top 3):
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah Ford Fiesta RRC 2hrs 11m 02.2s WRC2
2. Yazeed Al-Rajhi Ford Fiesta RRC +00m 01.8s WRC2
3. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta R5 +00m 14.8s WRC2
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial