Sébastien Ogier moved one step closer to securing his sixth championship title in the final round of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship in Australia.
While Europe slept, competitors got the title deciding Rally Australia underway; Early on in the day the title rivals struggled for grip as they swept the roads after the promise of rain overnight failed to arrive, leaving a top-coating of gravel on the stages.
Of the three title rivals, Thierry Neuville looked to be in control in seventh place, three places ahead of Ogier and ten seconds advantage, but on the second pass of the Sherwood stage his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC picked up a puncture after a jump, he lost further time as he slid into a chicane, stalling the engine.
By the end of the stage the Belgian had lost 45 seconds, dropping to tenth place. With the prospect of starting second on the road on Saturday, Neuville has definitely lost the advantage to his title rival as they head on to roads covered with a thicker layer of gravel.
Championship leader Ogier rounded out the day in seventh place with the aid of his M-Sport team-mates Teemu Suninen and Elfyn Evans who slowed on the stage to promote the Frenchman up the running order, giving him a better starting position for the second day.
“I pushed like crazy in the final stage, the conditions were worse than this morning. I was on the limit, I could not have done more,” said Ogier.
Mads Østberg took advantage of his starting position, taking his Citroën C3 to the top of the leaderboard, leading team-mate Craig Breen by 6.8 seconds by the end of the day .
Jari-Matti Latvala pushed hard to finish day one just 1.9 seconds off of the Irishman; Team-mate Esapekka Lappi put up a strong fight as he tied for the top with the more experienced Latvala, unfortunately for the Finn he would lose twenty seconds as his Toyota Yaris WRC took on water at a river crossing, he would come home sixth overall at the end of day one.
Hayden Paddon finished 3.8 seconds behind Latvala while title challenger Ott Tänak cracked under pressure as his Yaris was launched in to a bank along with suffering at the same water crossing as Lappi, losing some of his front aero.
Andreas Mikkelsen retired after suspected radiator damage following a crash in to a ditch.
In WRC2 the two Heller brothers led the way, with Alberto holding the advantage at the end of the day in his Ford Fiesta R5, Pedro Heller ended the day 20.6 seconds behind. Armin Kremer occupies the third spot in his Škoda Fabia R5. Sole WRC3 Enrico Brazzoli finished twenty-second overall.
1. M Østberg / T Eriksen NOR Citroën C3 53min 37.4sec
2. C Breen / S Martin IRL Citroën C3 + 6.8sec
3. J-M Latvala / M Anttila FIN Toyota Yaris + 8.7sec
4. H Paddon / S Marshall NZL Hyundai i20 + 12.5sec
5. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Toyota Yaris + 16.9sec
6. E Lappi / J Ferm FIN Toyota Yaris + 28.3sec