SS1-2: Mikkelsen sets pace
Norwegian wins opening stages in Australia
Andreas Mikkelsen was fastest in Friday morning’s opening two speed tests to lead Kennards Hire Rally Australia from Kris Meeke.
The Norwegian stopped the clocks 1.3sec quicker than the Briton in the curtain-raising Pilbara special stage. He added another 1.7sec to his advantage in the longer and dustier Eastbank test that followed.
His Hyundai i20 carried rear damage after Pilbara but Mikkelsen reported no incidents. “I enjoy these stages. It’s been a good start to the morning and I’ll try to continue like this. The dust was quite bad in places but we try not to think about it too much,” he said.
Meeke’s Citroën C3 sported a deep gash in the front left tyre after Eastbank. “It happened on a slow corner, we touched a bank on the inside,” he explained.
Thierry Neuville was third in another i20, but the Belgian was already 9.5sec adrift of Mikkelsen.
“I didn’t push so hard in SS1 but the grip was higher than expected. I was able to push more in the next one but the car is moving around too much. The grip changed quite often and I’m hesitating too much,” he said.
Pilbara was rough in places and several drivers finished with damaged cars. The diffuser was missing from the front of Jari-Matti Latvala’s Toyota Yaris and a faulty intercom connection meant he had difficulty hearing co-driver Miikka Anttila’s pace notes.
“The front didn’t turn in so well in the fast places so I had to attack more,” explained Latvala, who was 1.1sec behind Neuville in fourth and 0.3sec ahead of Craig Breen.
Hayden Paddon and Ott Tänak lost their rear diffusers and Kiwi Paddon was struggling for balance in sixth as a result.
Tänak was eighth, with both understeer and oversteer in his Ford Fiesta. The Estonian was 1.2sec behind team-mate Sébastien Ogier, who used the manual gearchange lever after problems with the automatic paddle system.
Esapekka Lappi dropped more than a minute in Eastbank after a power steering problem led to a spin midway through the test, and the Finn was working on his Toyota Yaris after the stop line. Stéphane Lefebvre dropped 10sec with a right rear puncture in his C3 in Pilbara.
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