WRC: Ostberg holds Rally Australia lead as Neuville’s title hopes fade
Rally Australia — the final and title-deciding round of the FIA World Rally Championship delivered some early drama but Mads Ostberg stayed out of trouble to lead for Citroen at the end of the opening day. The Norwegian now heads Craig Breen, who inched ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala by 1.9 seconds in the final super special stages of the day.
This afternoon the crews repeated the same three morning stages and then, returning to Coffs Harbour, took in two runs over the popular but tricky coastal super special stage. Different tire strategies came into play but Ostberg consistently delivered best. Breen, now second, admitted to a couple of silly mistakes in the first of the repeated stages but a clean run through the remainder rewarded the Irishman and gave Citroen a provisional double podium.
The second stage was a difficult one for Toyota, and Latvala, who played it safe through the water splash, was the only Yaris WRC driver to escape problems, enabling him to move ahead of teammate Esapekka Lappi to take second position earlier in the day. He maintained that place until the two super specials, where he then dropped behind Breen after clipping a bale.
Hayden Paddon heads Hyundai’s challenge, as the Korean marque battles with Toyota for the Manufacturers’ Championship. The Kiwi was happy with his choice of tires for the loop, despite the rubber coming off the rim in the second stage. He remains in the thick of the fight for the podium, 12.5 seconds adrift of Ostberg.
Championship outsider Ott Tanak climbed from sixth to fourth in the first stage in the afternoon, despite clipping a fence post and damaging the rear end of his Yaris WRC. However, he then lost all the front aero devices on the second stage when he powered sideways into the water splash. He managed to maintain pace and climbed to third at the expense of teammate Lappi but then dropped back to fifth after the final longest stage, the lack of aero front and rear hampering his charge.
From second going into the loop, Lappi is now sixth, the same water splash causing him problems that dropped him to ninth. The young Finn’s engine ingested a lot of water and developed a misfire; he dropped over 20 seconds and was lucky to be able to continue. He is ahead of championship contender Sebastien Ogier, the Frenchman climbing from 10th to seventh in the final gravel stage, courtesy of team orders to Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen, who now sit directly behind him. Ogier has struggled running first on the road and two extra positions from his teammates, coupled with problems for championship rival Thierry Neuville, will give him a better road position for tomorrow and some breathing space to the Belgian.
Neuville was placed seventh but then in the last stage a tire came off the rim after a jump; he then locked up under braking and ran straight into a straw bail and stalled. The resultant time loss dropped him to 10th, some 30 seconds behind Ogier.
The Chilean Heller brothers continue to top the FIA WRC 2 Championship standings, with Alberto heading Pedro by 20.6 seconds. Enrico Brazzoli, who provisionally won the FIA WRC 3 Championship on the last round in Spain, retired during the second loop for unconfirmed reasons.
Rally Australia – Unofficial results after Section 3
1 Mads Ostberg / Torstein Eriksen Citroen C3 WRC 53min 37.4sec
2 Craig Breen / Scott Martin Citroen C3 WRC 53min 44.2sec
3 Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila Toyota Yaris WRC 53min 46.1sec
4 Hayden Paddon / Sebastian Marshall Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 53min 49.9sec
5 Ott Tanak / Martin Jarveoja Toyota Yaris WRC 53min 54.3sec
6 Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm Toyota Yaris WRC 54min 05.7sec
7 Sebastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia Ford Fiesta WRC 54min 15.6sec
8 Elfyn Evans / Daniel Barritt Ford Fiesta WRC 54min 22.6sec
9 Teemu Suninen / Mikko Markkula Ford Fiesta WRC 54min 24.6sec
10 Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 54min 49.3sec
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