Sebastien Ogier has snatched the lead of Rally Australia from Kris Meeke in Saturday's concluding night test, with the Ulsterman losing time in the dust.
Ogier had gone into the mid-day re-group in third, 3.9s off Meeke and 1.6s off Volkswagen team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala in second.
In the repeat runs, however, Ogier was a man on the move, and the quickest time in SS10, the second-run through the long 50.80 km Nambucca test, lifted him to second, before another fastest time in SS11 put him top, albeit just 0.3 ahead of Meeke's Citroen.
“I was worried about the dust near the beginning but it was okay,” Ogier told the official WRC site.
“Not a good stage for me though. Still a lot of dust on the road. I expected it would be cleaner. I didn't find the optimal rhythm so I was not flat out,” added the 2015 WRC-champion elect, who was second into the test, behind Rally 2 runner, Stephane Lefebvre.
Speaking in final service, he continued: “Very happy to end the day with the lead and I will have the best starting position tomorrow. Today the road position was bad with the sweeping while the guys behind me had a lot of dust. I still have to do the work tomorrow but the anticipation for the championship is great.”
Meanwhile, Meeke was frustrated to lose the lead, and said nothing at the end of the final test, where a number of drivers voiced concerns about poor visibility, even though organisers had increased the gap between runners from three minutes to five.
Quizzed on his thoughts in final service, Meeke said: “Everything is excellent – I want every stage to be at night! I said enough before the stage...
“Here we are after day two just 0.3sec behind. We made a little mistake with the tyres and 15sec went missing this morning but happy with my afternoon. Tomorrow we all know what is like when it is a level playing field – I have done my best with the road position I had.”
Jari-Matti Latvala completes the provisional podium going into the final day, 2.3s further back in his Polo R WRC.
“I pushed really hard but I'm losing time here and there - I went wide in here. There was some dust but I was able to manage it. Of course I want to fight for the win here,” he said post-SS12.
Behind, VW Motorsport II pilot Andreas Mikkelen holds fourth, 9.1s off the lead and 10.3s up on the Hyundai of Hayden Paddon.
“A clean stage but not easy in [terms of] the visibility. It was really hard to see. Also, my lights were a little too low. We gave away too much time in here,” Mikkelsen said.
"It hasn't been a bad afternoon but we burned out our tyres halfway through the long stage [SS11],” explained Paddon, who starred this morning winning SS9 and SS10. “Now we have a bald tyre and the car keeps trying to switch ends under braking. We won't be able to catch the guys ahead on pace alone.
“We'll just try and keep our speed and keep the pressure on. We're 20 seconds behind, but that is just a spin or a stall.”
M-Sport's Ott Tanak rounds out the top six, ahead of Hyundai's Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo, the latter slipping back a place in SS12. All three complained about the dust in Valla 2.
“It's pretty stupid but okay, we are through,” Tanak remarked. “We had a few minor issues yesterday but today the car has been absolutely fantastic. I've really enjoyed it.”
“It's stupid with the dust,” added Neuville. “For the guys behind it will be difficult. It's penalising the guys behind.”
Elfyn Evans ended the leg still in ninth, despite a scare in the last test: “It just broke away from me flat in sixth gear,” the M-Sport man noted at the end. “I kept the speed on but it wouldn't recover. I don't know where we went but it was a massive moment. We were lucky.”
WRC2 class leader Nasser Al-Attiyah rounds out the top-ten and after difficult morning with an engine misfire and gearbox issues, he has managed to pull away a bit from Yuriy Protasov – the gap up from 10.3s post-SS10 to 14.2s post-SS12. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari holds third.
As for retirements, Lorenzo Bertelli went out this morning in SS9 due to engine problems. He had been running tenth in his Fiesta RS WRC. WRC2 runner Yazeed Al-Rajhi also went out, but on the second go at Nambucca, going off right near the end.
The event now concludes on Sunday with five stages on the bill and a total competitive distance of 68.76 km. SS13, the 21.95km Bucca Long 1 test, is due to start tomorrow at 07.58 hours local time [10.58 hours tonight UK time]. Full itinerary for round ten in WRC 2015 available - HERE
2015 Rally Australia: Overall standings after Stage 12 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 2h 20m 51.8s
2. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +0m 00.3s
3. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +0m 02.6s
4. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +0m 09.1s
5. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +0m 19.4s
6. Ott Tanak
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +0m 39.1s
7. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +1m 03.9s
8. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +1m 10.2s
9. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 15.1s
10. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Ford Fiesta RRC +8m 30.4s
11. Yuriy Protasov
Ford Fiesta RRC +8m 44.6s
12. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari
Ford Fiesta RRC +9m 56.6s
14. Stephane Lefebvre
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +14m 09.2s
WRC2 standings after Stage 12 (Top 3):
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Ford Fiesta RRC 2h 29m 22.2s
2. Yuriy Protasov
Ford Fiesta RRC +0m 14.2s
3. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari
Ford Fiesta RRC +1m 26.2s
SS8. Stephane Lefebvre
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC Hit a rock
SS9. Lorenzo Bertelli
FWRT SRL Ford Fiesta RS WRC Engine
SS11. Yazeed Al-Rajhi
Ford Fiesta RRC Went off
*Re-started on Saturday under Rally 2.
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial