WRC Rally Australia: Ogier sets the pace
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WRC Rally Australia and the final round fight for 2018 titles begins today on the forest and shire roads of New South Wales’ Coffs Coast region.
With rain expected at times throughout the weekend, crews will head into the three-day event with a vigilant eye on the forecast and a need to balance their allocation of the hard and medium compound tyres they are permitted to choose from.
Yesterday it was championship leader Sebastien Ogier (France) who set the pace at the 5.07km Shakedown stage. Ogier made four shakedown runs in his Ford Fiesta clocking a best time of 2m 53.8s to claim pre-rally honours ahead of Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway) and Toyota’s Ott Tanak (Estonia) who both clocked 2m 54.0s with Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville (Belgium) just 0.1s slower.
Citroen’s Craig Breen (N. Ireland) and Kiwi Hayden Paddon completed the top six among the 11 factory WRC crews competing this weekend.
New Zealander Raana Horan, who is making his offshore rally debut in his Skoda Fabia R5, was 16th quickest of the 21 drivers who took advantage of the pre-rally shakedown opportunity.
Today’s rally action is based north of Coffs Harbour with Ogier set to depart from the service park at 9.15am (NZ time) with the opening stage scheduled to go green at 10.03am. The loop of three stages — Orara East 9.77km, Coldwater 14.12km and Sherwood 26.98km — is used twice with a return to the Coffs Harbour service park following the first loop at 1.14pm (NZ time).
The repeat run through the three stages is followed by two runs at the Destination NSW Super Special Stage (1.27km) on the Coffs Harbour beach front. The teams will begin returning to the service park with the first day completed from 7.07pm (NZ time).
Ogier starts WRC Rally Australia with 204 points with Neuville on 201pts and Tanak a long shot in the title equation on 181pts. There’s a big gap to Finland’s Esapekka Lappi on 110 points and potential for reshuffle of the minor places with Jari-Matti Latvala on 102pts and Andreas Mikkelsen with 84pts.
The Manufacturers’ title race has also closed up ahead of the final round with Toyota Gazoo Racing on 331 points leading from Hyundai Motorsport with 319 and M-Sport Ford on 306pts with a maximum of 43 points available in Australia from a 1-2 result.