The Volkswagen Motorsport team has exerted its power in the afternoon special stages of WRC Rally Australia with Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala edging into the rally lead and world champ Sebastien Ogier (France) rocketing to third position.
The VW drivers had only been fifth and sixth respectively at the lunch time service break before a string of three fastest times put Latvala into second place and closing on leader Kris Meeke (Citroen) of Northern Ireland.
The final 29.51km Newry stage in the late afternoon produced dusty conditions which worsened with each car and left thick dust hanging between the trees.
Ogier’s disadvantage of running first on some heavily gravelled stages was countered by the dust-free run and he raced through to win his first stage of the day.
Immediately behind Latvala faced a little dust and was second fastest while Meeke’s sixth position on the road slowed him with visibility problems and he dropped 11.2secs to Ogier’s winning time.
The last stage reshuffle of the leader board put Latvala into the rally lead by 2.0secs from Meeke. Ogier is just 4.6secs behind Latvala and the third Volkswagen Polo of Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway) is fourth and 12.9secs behind Latvala.
Early leader Dani Sordo (Spain) leads the Hyundai trio in fifth place, 15.9s back from the rally lead.
New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon - who had run as high as second during the morning - has slipped back to sixth position in his Hyundai. He is 25.5secs behind the rally leader and 11.7secs ahead of team-mate Thierry Neuville (Belgium).
Dust wasn’t the main problem Paddon had to contend with on Friday afternoon. For the last three stages of the day he had a mysterious handling problem which he first thought was a left front puncture.
``We’re not quite sure what it is. We need to look at the data and see if it’s me or the car but it seems to be consistently in right hand corners. On left hand corners it felt good.
``This afternoon the conditions were quite tricky for everyone.
``Tomorrow is like a different rally with different roads and conditions. And it’s all still pretty close in the top seven so it’s not a lost cause.’’
The big challenge for Saturday is two runs through the 50.80km Nambucca stage.
``We’ll make some changes tonight. The long stage we have a lot more experience of and it’s stage I enjoy, so there will be no holding back on the first one,’’ said Paddon.
The rally gets underway again from Coffs Harbour at 10.40am (NZ time) and includes a final night stage which brings crews back to the final service at 9.30pm (NZ).