for Rally Australia leaderboard after day 2, SS18
Volkswagen's Andreas Mikkelsen remains in the lead of Rally Australia after Saturday's second loop, but Sebastien Ogier has moved back to second, slashing his team-mates advantage to just 2secs.
Mikkelsen started the day with a 15.4sec advantage and more or less maintained that in the morning. However, on the repeats, Ogier reeled him in, gaining 4.6secs in the long 50.80km Nambucca 2 test and 9.2secs in the 14.84km Valla16 2 stage when Mikkelsen was only eighth quickest, slowed after an issue with the clutch pedal.
It left them split by only 2.8secs prior to the short Destination NSW super specials and while Ogier topped the third blast through the 1.27km test, Mikkelsen responded in SS18 to end the day still on top, albeit with his advantage now well down.
“Seb told me he would help me get second in the championship but it doesn't look like it,” Mikkelsen said. “He is pushing very hard.
“Sadly we had an incident on the last proper stage where the clutch pedal went over the brake pedal and we drove half the stage with brake pressure on.
“Anyway it makes things really interesting for tomorrow. We will do everything we can to win this rally because we have nothing to lose and everything to gain – and so does Seb, so it will be very interesting, although I could live with a little less tension.”
Road opener Ogier was delighted to end the day so close to P1: “I didn't expect, with the disadvantage of road position, to be fighting for the win – but now we are,” he said.
“Today obviously we had a good drive and good tyre strategy. This morning we were the only ones to take the bet to use soft tyres on the front for the long stage and it worked out for us. At the end of the day it looks interesting for tomorrow.”
Behind, Hayden Paddon completes the provisional podium for Hyundai, 10secs adrift of the scrap ahead. Paddon had moved to second overall after going fastest this morning in Nambucca 1, but then lost out on the second run and was only sixth.
“It's been a good day. We started well with the stage win through Nambucca, which set a positive tone,” Paddon said. “There was a lot of dust coming into the car on those first stages. It was a bit of a distraction, but you have to expect that in Rally Australia.
“We knew that Seb would be on a charge in the afternoon, which proved to be the case, so we just focused on keeping up the pressure. We missed a bit of speed in the afternoon loop but all in all it's been a good improvement over last year.
“We're involved in a close fight up front. It's a good position to be in and we'll certainly be giving it a hard push tomorrow to see what we can do.”
Thierry Neuville holds fourth in his Hyundai i20 WRC, conceding time in the morning after selecting the wrong tyres, but bouncing back in the afternoon and going quickest in SS16. He is now 22.5secs off Paddon and a similar amount up on Dani Sordo in P5 in the 'third' Hyundai entry.
“It's been close to a perfect day for us considering the conditions,” said Neuville. “We made a wrong tyre choice this morning, which lost us some ground in the battle for third place. I was concerned the soft tyres would be too soft for the conditions. In hindsight, we should have perhaps taken the risk but that's easier said than done when we're trying to secure second in the Championship.
“The afternoon was better and I felt I drove well. We had to manage the tyres carefully but I was pretty pleased to set the fastest time in SS16, when conditions were more equal for everybody. We're still firmly in the podium fight and we definitely won't give up until the rally is over.”
“A much more positive day for us,” added Sordo. “After incurring the 20-second time penalty yesterday, we wanted to make up some positions. We knew from our performance on Friday that we had the pace to compete with the front-runners, so I was pleased to set some good times today.
“We started with the long Nambucca stage so it was important to find a good rhythm quickly. We went a bit wide, and lost some time, but apart from that everything has worked well. The car has been nice to drive, even if we have had to take care with the tyres. I am feeling confident, so let's see what we can do tomorrow. We want to finish the season strongly.”
Mads Ostberg completes the top-six for M-Sport, overhauled by Sordo in SS16, although only 1.6secs splits them heading into the overnight service.
“It's been a good day and, again, we showed that we have some really good speed with the second fastest time through the second stage this morning (SS13),” Ostberg said.
“We decided to make some changes to the set-up for the second pass of Nambucca (SS15) but unfortunately that didn't work out and we lost quite a lot of time. It was still quite slippery and we were struggling for traction. I knew already after a couple of corners that it wasn't going to work so to do 50 kilometres like that wasn't easy.
“We did our best, but we'll go back to the standard set-up tomorrow and fight again. The gap to Dani [Sordo in fifth] is very small, and we want that fifth place so that is what we will fight for.”
M-Sport #2 Eric Camilli, DMACK's Ott Tanak, Ford privateer Lorenzo Bertelli and Skoda's Esapekka Lappi hold positions 7 through to 10, with Jari-Matti Latvala now up to P11, winning two stages to climb back up the order after his error in SS1 on Friday.
"From a driving point of view, today was definitely one of our better days and I am very pleased with the two best times,” Latvala remarked.
“However, my mistake yesterday means that I cannot make a decisive contribution to the overall result. So I will be keeping my fingers crossed that my team-mates Sebastien and Andreas cross the finish line at the head of the field. And then, with the whole team, we will raise a glass to the four extraordinary years that we have experienced."
In WRC2, Lappi continues to dominate, and having won 10 of the 11 tests on Friday, took a clean sweep today to extend his advantage to almost 4 minutes. Nicolas Fuchs holds second, with Hubert Ptaszek dropping back after a right-rear puncture in SS15 cost him over a minute. Fuchs and Ptaszek had been split by just 10secs prior to Nambucca 2. It now stands at over a minute.
"Everything is going according to plan!” said Lappi, who will secure the WRC2 title on Sunday, providing he finishes at least second. “My Skoda Fabia R5 is working perfectly – as are the crew. I'm trying to keep a cool head.
“It was really hot in the car today, and on top of that there were so many clouds of dust from the dry tracks. But we found a really good rhythm.”
"I'm not thinking about that [the title] yet,” he added. “Anything is possible at any time in rallying. Which is why we need to remain focussed down to the final metre.”
Rally Australia now concludes on Sunday with five stages and 57.18 competitive kilometres on the bill.
SS19, the 6.20km Settles Reverse 1 test, is scheduled to start at 07.43 hours local time [Saturday at 20.43 hours UK time].