Mads Ostberg has opened up an early lead following the first loop of stages at Kennards Hire Rally Australia that saw Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen hit trouble and the WRC title contenders struggle.
Factory Citroen driver Ostberg holds a 5.4s lead over opening stage winner Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi, while the three championship contenders struggled having to tackle the gravel stages first due to the running order.
“It was very enjoyable! What can I say?,” said Ostberg.
“It was a beautiful stage and I had a good rhythm through there, I was thinking back to Finland when I was on the start line there.
“I didn’t do this stage last year, but the car was great, it was a good morning all in all.”
Ostberg won Stage 3 (Sherwood I, 26.68km) which produced drama for Mikkelsen as the Norwegian lost control and found a ditch.
He recovered the car but suffered significant damage to the front including a smashed windscreen and radiator which saw him pull over with steam pouring from the i20.
Shortly after the crash Mikkelsen came across a tractor on the stage but was able to avoid the vehicle.
Meanwhile, championship leader Sebastien Ogier, who was first on the road, ended the loop in 10th spot 27.6s adrift of early leader Ostberg.
“(The road order is) the worst, we knew it before. I guessed this one was going to be hard,” said Ogier.
Title contenders Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) and Ott Tanak (Toyota) finished ninth and sixth respectively having also been hampered by road position.
Meanwhile, Jari- Matti Latvala (Toyota), who won Stage 2 (Coldwater 14.12km) currently held third ahead of Citroen’s Craig Breen, while New Zealander Hayden Paddon (Hyundai) sat fifth.
Harry Bates in the Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia Yaris is the top Australian Rally Championship runner in 16th position overall.
The battle for the CAMS Australian Rally Championship driver’s title was thrown wide open after championship leader Eli Evans suffered a broken radiator during the third stage today.
Evans had set a fast pace, winning the opening two stages, but a heavy landing just short of halfway through the Sherwood stage damaged to his Skoda Fabia R5 and it was unable to finish the stage.
Evans’ catastrophe was the climax of a dramatic morning.
The Subaru WRX of fellow title contender Molly Taylor suffered heavy impact before catching fire on the second stage.
Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were quickly able to extinguish the small blaze and the two reported the were uninjured, but the incident was a disastrous start to their rally.
The leader after the first morning was Harry Bates, by 3m20s over Steve Glenney, who dropped three minutes on the third stage after a flat tyre, a spin and a stall.
The field will now repeat the three morning stages this afternoon.
VIDEO: Highlights from Stages 1-3