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Motorsport | Rallying

Andreas Mikkelsen © Gallo Images

Mikkelsen has 'perfect day' in Australia



Defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen was the early leader of the season-ending Rally Australia in Coffs Harbour on Friday after winning five of the opening eight stages.

The Norwegian (Hyundai i20 WRC) held a 20.1 seconds advantage over Citroen's Kris Meeke with Hyundai team leader Thierry Neuville in third, 23.1sec down.

Frenchman Sebastien Ogier has already wrapped up the 2017 World Rally Championship, but the battle for second remains alive in Australia.

Belgium's Neuville holds a 14-point advantage over M-Sport's Estonian driver Ott Tanak, with a maximum 30 points available in the final leg of the season.

Tanak was in sixth place, 33 seconds down on Mikkelsen with Ogier in eighth.

Five-time world champion Ogier, who bore the task of "cleaning" the gravel surface as first in the running order, suffered gear selection problems in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta.

Mikkelsen said he had struck a fine balance with his machine in only his third event since being hired by the German-based Korean manufacturer.

"It's been really amazing. The car feels like home now," Mikkelsen said.

"It's the perfect day for us so far. With these roads and this car it's so nice because I can do exactly what I want."

Northern Ireland's Meeke had some damage to the front splitter after SS6 as he struggled to come to grips with tyre compound choices.

"Just trying to work it out, to be honest," Meeke said.

"We've been through softs and I went through hards. It seems like the tyre choice is a mixed bag."

Neuville was also not comfortable with the tyres after the 26.68-kilometre SS6.

"I struggled a bit with the soft tyres on this one and the rear was sliding too much, especially the left rear," he said.

"I couldn't really push in the right-hand corner and I lost a bit of time in there."

There are eight stages on Saturday's second day ahead of Sunday's final stages.

LEG 1 CLASSIFICATION

1. Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway) Hyundai 57:51.900
2. Thierry Neuville (Belgium) Hyundai +00:20.100
3. Kris Meeke (Britain) Citroen 00:20.800
4. Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland) Toyota 00:29.900
5. Craig Breen (Ireland) Citroen 00:30.800
6. Ott Tanak (Estonia) Ford 00:33.000
7. Hayden Paddon (New Zealand) Hyundai 00:38.200
8. Sebastien Ogier (France) Ford 00:47.900
9. Stephane Lefebvre (France) Citroen 00:57.300
10. Elfyn Evans (Britain) Ford 01:13.800



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