Citroën factory driver Mads Østberg has squeezed out a slender lead after the opening daytime stages at Kennards Hire Rally Australia, the deciding round of the FIA World Rally Championship on the New South Wales Coffs Coast today.
Østberg returned to the service park before the early-evening Destination NSW Super Special Stage with a 6.2s lead over Toyota’s hard-charging Jari-Matti Latvala after six tests on the hinterland shire and forest roads.
Ireland’s Craig Breen enjoyed a solid run in another Citroen C3, 7.5s behind Ostberg in third outright.
Kiwi Hyundai team driver Hayden Paddon dialled himself into the action steadily, to finish the daytime runs handily placed in fourth, 9.7s back.
Championship leaders Sébastien Ogier (M-Sport Ford), Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) and Ott Tänak (Toyota) all had problematic days.
Tänak continues to fare best in fifth, with Ogier seventh and Neuville 10th.
Neuville encountered a late problem when he shredded a left-rear tyre after a jump and lost 40s to Ogier on special stage five, the second run through Coldwater.
Misfortune also hit Tänak on the same stage, the 32-year-old Estonian losing the nose of his Toyota at a water splash.
The opening day concludes with two runs over the 1.27km Destination NSW Super Special stage on the Coffs Harbour foreshore.
Crews face their longest day of the event tomorrow, 133kms of gravel racing over 10 stages. The itinerary features live television broadcasts in Australia on Fox Sports Australia and 7mate, plus globally, of the Argents Hill stage at 7.08am and 12.08pm.
In the CAMS Australian Rally Championship final, Toyota Gazoo driver won the first day and closed the gap in the standings to leader Eli Evans, who retired with a broken radiator. Evans is expected to resume the contest tomorrow.
Fellow title contender Steve Glenney was second going into tonight’s Destination NSW Super Special Stage.
The day’s major drama involved 2016 champion Molly Taylor, who hit a large hay bale on the third stage, severely damaging her Subaru. Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were unhurt, but sore.
The crash ended Taylor’s weekend and any outside hope of winning her second title.
Top 10 WRC standings after SS8:
1 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) 50:47.3secs
2 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota) 6.2s
3 Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroën) +7.5s
4 Hayden Paddon/Sebastian Marshall (Hyundai) +9.7s
5 Ott Tänak/Martin Jarveoja (Toyota) +19.9s
6 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota) +29s
7 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (M-Sport Ford) +41.7s
8 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (M-Sport Ford) +45.2s
9 Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (M-Sport Ford) 45.4s
10 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai) + 1min12.8s