Volkswagen Motorsport’s Jari-Matti Latvala had a day of two halves in the first day down under as he staged a powerful afternoon of domination to recover and give himself a slim lead at the Rally Australia.
In the morning’s run of stages Kris Meeke was looking to hold on to a lead he had earned himself in yesterday’s running, however it was Dani Sordo in the Hyundai i20 that set the early pace to lead Hayden Paddon by 3.2 seconds after the first two stages.
Sordo’s lead came in part thanks to the freshly swept stages – the gravel and general loose surface played havoc with some of those that took on the stages early doors with championship leader Sebastien Ogier finishing eighth and Latvala finishing three places behind him.
Sordo carried on his good form in SS3 but Meeke, in his Citroen, lit up the timing screens in SS4 – Newry Long – and, combined with Sordo’s gearbox problems, saw him claim the stage win and lead the overall times by 3.3 seconds.
Paddon held position in third place with three VWs filling in the places behind with Andreas Mikkelsen leading Ogier and Latvala.
Going from the morning to the afternoon stages it was clear Latvala had given himself a major pep talk and going into stages five and six he set the fastest times to move above his VW compatriots and close in on Meeke in the DS3.
He finally gained the lead on the last stage of the day with an early start on the stage helping rather than hindering him as Meeke – and other runners – were slowed by the Australian dust hanging in the trees limiting visibility to almost zero.
After the stage Meeke said: “I couldn’t see the end of the bonnet. Driving in sixth gear when you can’t see anything isn’t easy.”
Latvala finished the day 2 seconds up on Meeke, but the Citroen man was lucky not to completely fall into the clutches of Ogier with the 2014 champion closing in quick but having to settle for 2.6 seconds further back in third place.
Mikkelsen finished the day in fourth with the Hyundai’s of Dani Sordo, Hayden Paddon and Thierry Neuville taking fifth, sixth and seventh.
The Fords didn’t have a great day in Australia with Ott Tanak finishing as the top runner for the blue oval in eighth place just over 40 seconds behind the leader. Elfyn Evans would finish the day more than two minutes behind the leader and will need some serious running on days two and three to make up any ground on the front runners.
Check out the day 1 highlights courtesy of Michelin: