Frenchman Sebastien Ogier continues his quest for a third straight world title at Rally Australia in Coffs Harbour but local driver Scott Pedder has finished the day early after rolling his car.
Ogier was first on the road and struggling for outright speed in the slippery conditions on Friday morning, as he effectively swept the gravel out of the way for the cars behind.
That’s not to say he was slow, posting the second fastest time in the final stage of the session and putting his Volkswagen Motorsport VW Polo R WRC into sixth outright before the midday service, 11.8 seconds behind the leader.
After four stages of the Coates Hire event, the battle at the front is a three-nation tussle between Ireland’s Kris Meeke (Citroen DS3 WRC), Spain’s Dani Sordo and New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon, the latter two driving Hyundai i20 WRCs.
Sordo is 3.3 seconds behind Meeke, with Paddon 3.7 seconds back from his Hyundai Motorsport teammate.
Australia’s Pedder, who is running selected rounds of the international WRC2 category this year had a tough session, rolling his Ford Fiesta R5 near the spectator point on the second special stage of the morning, the 16.75km Bakers Creek run.
He and co-driver Dale Moscatt are unharmed and it is expected they will restart the event on Saturday, after the crew repairs their car.
The same stage also caught out Pedder’s brother Mark and his co-driver, Glenn Macneall, who are Australian Rally Championship regulars, running under WRC regulations this weekend.
The engine management system in the Peugeot 208 Maxi shut down the car. Its not yet known if they can resolve the problem.
The highest placed Australian in WRC2 is Coffs Coast local, Nathan Quinn, currently fifth in the category and in 15th place outright.
Currently in an impressive ninth place is the young Frenchman, Stephane Lefebvre, who was a last-minute replacement for Citroen star Mads Ostberg, injured in a crash during route reconnaissance earlier in the week.
The young driver is the reigning Junior World Rally Champion but this is his first ever run on gravel in the high-powered car. He made his outright WRC debut on tarmac in Germany last month.
The crews were to repeat the morning’s four stages on Friday afternoon. They cover 17 stages in total and more than 311km of state forest and shire roads before the event finishes in the Coffs Harbour CBD on Sunday afternoon.
Rally Australia is round 10 of the 13-event 2015 World Rally Championship.