Rally Australia: Volkswagen trio leads Down Under

Ogier, Latvala and Mikkelsen top standings in Australia after mighty effortThrilling five-way race for the lead between three manufacturersSix of eight stage wins go to the Polo R WRC

Excitement right down to the last metre – Volkswagen overcame the disadvantage of opening the route to end the first leg of the Rally Australia occupying the top three positions. Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F) lead after the first third of the WRC event down under, just four tenths of a second ahead of their Volkswagen team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN) – that is the equivalent of about two and a half car lengths. Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (N/N) in the third Polo R WRC rounded off a perfect team result, ending day one 3.5 seconds behind Ogier/Ingrassia.

As first, second and third in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), the three Volkswagen duos were first out onto the gravel stages around Coffs Harbour. And they ended the opening day in exactly the same order as the overall standings. The excellent result was hard-fought: as the fastest road sweepers in the world, Ogier, Latvala and Mikkelsen overcame the disadvantage of encountering the lion’s share of the slippery loose gravel as the special stages became quicker with each car that passed. Six of eight stage wins went to Wolfsburg, as did 16 of a possible 24 top-three times. On three occasions, the trio of Polo R WRCs monopolised the top three positions at the end of a special stage.

The first day of the rally in Australia was dominated by a five-way battle for the lead. As well as the three Volkswagen duos, Kris Meeke (Citroën) and Mikko Hirvonen (M-Sport-Ford) were also scrapping for every tenth of a second. Only on the final two short spectator stages in Coffs Harbour did the three Volkswagen pairings work their way into the lead, thanks in part to clever tyre selection. As such, Volkswagen is still on course to achieve its main goal: the works team from Wolfsburg can wrap up the Manufacturer’s World Championship at the Rally Australia with races still to come. For this to be the case, Ogier and Latvala must score five points between them.

Quotes after day one of the Rally Australia

Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1“I am obviously very happy with the start here in Australia. I did not expect a result like this. Julien and I did a great job, and the Polo R WRC is also running perfectly. Only in the afternoon did we have a little moment of concern, as the radiator was hit by a stone and damaged, resulting in it leaking a bit of liquid. Fortunately today’s stages were only short, so it did not really pose a problem. Julien and I have definitely put ourselves in a good position for tomorrow, but it was by no means easy. I am particularly looking forward to the 50 kilometres that await us on the ‘Nambucca’ stage. It is like a rollercoaster in the jungle. There may be some rain on Saturday, which would make the conditions very slippery. The fans are in for an exciting day, that much is certain.”

Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2“We can be more than happy with day one of the Rally Australia, as we would not have expected all three Polos to be at the top of the standings this evening – after all, we were not in the best starting positions. The afternoon went particularly well for my co-driver Miikka and me. We were able to gradually improve from fifth place in the morning, and eat into the gap to the leaders. However, we have not won anything yet: it is very close at the top, we still have a long way to go, and the unsettled weather could make life difficult for us in the cockpit tomorrow.”

Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9“The Rally Australia could hardly have started better. We have put ourselves in a good position for the next two days, although it is very close in the top five. I am more than happy with third place, as this is better than I expected at the start of the day. It was definitely a disadvantage for me and my team-mates to have to open the route. We made the best of the situation. I am right in the thick of the battle for a place on the podium. It is going to be exciting.”

Jost Capito, Volkswagen Motorsport Director“I have to pay a big complement to our drivers. They produced an excellent display of driving to overcome the clear disadvantage of having to open the route as first, second and third in the World Championship. They fought like lions to keep the time lost to a minimum, and are well-placed going into the final two days. Given the small gaps between the top five, the Rally Australia basically starts from scratch again tomorrow. I think we showed today that we currently have the best World Rally Car, with the Polo R WRC, and the top drivers in Sébastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen.”

And then there was ...

... the very special relationship between man and beast. The fact that about 80 per cent of the most deadly species in the world live in Australia deserves utmost respect, including from the Volkswagen drivers and co-drivers. Although Andreas Mikkelsen and Jari-Matti Latvala came into direct contact with tame alligators and pythons in a photo shoot ahead of the Rally Australia, they do not seem to have completely hit it off. During the Recce, Latvala instinctively lifted both feet whilst driving when his Golf R came across a dead snake on the road. Andreas Mikkelsen, himself not entirely fearless when it comes to the Australian wildlife, used the round of the WRC down under to trick his co-driver Ola Fløene. He placed a rubber snake on the dashboard of the Polo R WRC, which fell into his lap whilst driving in the dark after the ceremonial start in Coffs Harbour. The snake appeared so realistic that Fløene could only just be prevented from leaping out of the World Rally Car.

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