for Rally Australia leaderboard after day 1, SS11
Andreas Mikkelsen will take a 15.4sec lead into day two of Rally Australia having eked out his advantage on Friday's second loop.
The Volkswagen Motorsport II pilot, who won four of the five morning tests to build a 14.2sec margin over Hyundai's Hayden Paddon, was quickest in the first test after the mid-day service, before going third in SS7, SS8 and SS9.
He then finished the leg by setting the second and joint third fastest time in the two runs through the short 1.27 km Destination NSW super special stage.
"An absolutely perfect day for us – it doesn't get much better than that," said Mikkelsen. "The Polo R WRC was better than ever in the morning. The set-up was ideal and fantastic to drive.
"The conditions out on the route changed in the afternoon, and we struggled a bit with oversteering and understeering at times. We expected to lose a lot of time on those behind us. To lead the rally and have won five stages on the way is absolutely perfect.
"If we want to clinch second place in the world championship, we are almost compelled to win – and that is exactly what we are trying to achieve here.
"Our goal has to be to have a good lead by Saturday evening, then we will have a good chance of crossing the finish line in front on Sunday. To achieve this, however, we still have a lot of hard work ahead of us."
Mikkelsen's day, however, was not without incident and he had what he described as a 'scare' in Northbank 2 this afternoon.
"It felt really bad in there to be honest," he added. "Oversteer and understeer in every corner and then a water bottle became stuck between my feet.
"I managed to catch it in a corner but it was a bit scary."
Meanwhile, Sebastien Ogier is 'best of the rest' in his Polo R WRC, and despite losing time this morning as the first driver on the road, was able to win SS8 and SS9 this afternoon to overhaul Hyundai's Hayden Paddon for P2. The Frenchman was also quickest in both runs through the day ending Destination NSW super specials.
"Our position does not reflect the struggle we had this morning and I think maybe others are not making the best of their advantage being behind us," Ogier said.
"It's certainly better than I expected, but it is a struggle to clean the roads."
Thierry Neuville completes the provisional podium for Hyundai, just 7.1secs off Ogier and only 1.2secs up on team-mate Paddon, who lost two positions in Newry16 2.
"The morning loop went OK. Our goal was to keep up with Seb, who was starting first on the road - just ahead of us. In those conditions, we could run quite close, better than expected to be honest," Neuville noted.
"The afternoon loop went well, and we could set some fast times, which moved us up the classification. Andreas is doing well, and leading the rally, so we know we have to maintain our speed and rhythm in our fight for second in the Championship."
"All in all, I'm pretty satisfied with how this opening day has gone," added Paddon. "The first three stages were to my liking, everything was flowing and the car felt good. The only real disappointment was the fourth stage, which didn't go to plan. We had a lot of moments, and the balance of the car wasn't ideal. A few half spins lost us some time. We tried something different with the tyres in the first loop with a mix of hard and soft.
"The afternoon went without any real dramas, and I think we're well placed for the remainder of the rally. We're still in the hunt; I'm feeling relaxed and comfortable."
Behind, M-Sport's Mads Ostberg holds fifth, another 15.1secs back and 7.8secs up on team-mate, Eric Camilli with fellow Fiesta RS WRC runner Ott Tanak slipping from seventh to eighth in his DMACK WRT entry after picking up a 40-sec penalty this evening for starting SS10 4 minutes late. Tanak was delayed starting the Destination NSW SSS 1 after he was stopped by the police: "Some confusion," he remarked. "I was not speeding."
Dani Sordo had been provisionally second after the first loop, but he also picked up a penalty after he got lost and was 2 minutes late starting SS4. Without that error - and the 20-secs added to his time - he would have been up with his Hyundai team-mates battling for third rather than in P7.
"It's been a really disappointing day for us. We started well and were in the fight after the opening three stages. But the time penalty has cost us a 20-second penalty. We misjudged the time we had to make it to SS4," Sordo explained.
"After changing tyres on the road section, we were under some pressure and we missed two junctions on the way to the stage. These things can happen; we are only human. But it's still immensely frustrating. There's a long way to go though in this rally and we'll keep pushing."
Skoda's Esapekka Lappi is ninth, dominating the depleted five-car WRC2 field and quickest in 10 of the days 11 stages, with Ford privateer Lorenzo Bertelli one spot back in P10.
Nicolas Fuchs and Hubert Ptaszek hold second and third in WRC2 (and 11th and 12th overall), divided by 6.6secs, but more than 2 minutes off Lappi.
"I would say that we have everything under control. We aren't taking any major risks and are trying to do exactly what we need to do to win the title. We know that one single mistake could undo all the hard work we have put in to win the title this year," Lappi said.
Of the rest, Jari-Matti Latvala endured a day to forget after hitting a bridge and damaging the left-rear suspension on his VW Polo R WRC in the opening test. The Finn was able to continue, but had to limp through the remaining stages of the morning losing around 8 minutes. He was back on the pace in the afternoon - going second in SS6 and SS7 - but remains well down ending the day in 16th.
Rally Australia now continues on Saturday with seven stages on the bill and a total competitive distance of 135.29 kilometres.
Day two begins with the long 50.80 km run through Nambucca 1, scheduled to start at 08.28 hours local time [Friday at 21.28 hours UK time].