SS3: Mikkelsen clean sweep
Hat-trick for flying Norwegian
Andreas Mikkelsen won all three Friday morning speed tests to build a handsome lead at Kennards Hire Rally Australia.
He added victory in the sandy Sherwood special stage to earlier wins in Pilbara and Eastbank to enter the mid-leg Coffs Harbour service break with a 16.6sec advantage over Kris Meeke.
The Norwegian’s lowly start position paid dividends in Sherwood, as the early runners cleaned the roads of loose gravel to expose a faster and grippier line for those following.
“It’s been a good morning and the car is acting just as I want it too,” said the Hyundai i20 driver. “I was lifting the throttle way too much in that last stage, so we’ll change that for the second run. We’re really enjoying our time in the car and these beautiful stages.”
Meeke was relieved to retain second in his Citroën C3 after a lucky escape in Sherwood when he dropped more than 10sec. “I knew we were too quick for a corner. We ran wide off the road and into bushes. I had to stop, reverse, turn and go,” explained the Ulsterman.
Just 5.4sec covered the next five drivers, who were headed by an emotional Craig Breen. Third fastest promoted the Irishman’s Citroën C3 to third place and he said: “That was awesome. When it all comes together it’s just absolutely perfect. I love what I do.”
Thierry Neuville was 3.0sec back in fourth in an i20, 0.2sec ahead of Ott Tänak who was happier with his Ford Fiesta’s balance after compensating for losing the rear diffuser.
“Maybe I wasn’t smart enough on the previous stage when I tried to rebalance the set-up after losing the diffuser. This time I made settings the other way, to give a lot more grip to the rear, and it was more driveable,” he said.
Jari-Matti Latvala was a further 0.2sec back in sixth after repairing a faulty intercom in his Toyota Yaris. He was 0.9sec clear of Hayden Paddon, who was concerned about his i20.
“Maybe it’s just the conditions, but it feels like we have no engine power. Because of that our pace notes are too slow and we’re having to make adjustments. We’ll take a look in service,” he explained.
Road opener Sébastien Ogier suffered worst on the sandy roads. The Frenchman was 10th in Sherwood to hold eighth overall, almost 30sec off the lead. However, he solved his gearchange issue, which was traced to an electrical problem.
Stéphane Lefebvre and Elfyn Evans completed the leaderboard, while Esapekka Lappi conceded almost two minutes as he continued to struggle with broken power steering.
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