8.30PM: WORLD champion Sebastien Ogier left it until the very last to pinch a tiny lead at the head a Volkswagen 1-2-3 after day one of Coates Hire Rally Australia.

The Frenchman inched past teammate Jari-Matti Latvala by just 0.4 seconds on the day's eighth and final test, the second pass through the Hyundai Super Special Stage.

The Finnish ace Latvala in turn was a further 3.1 sec ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway, putting the German team in a promising early position to secure the mere five points it needs to secure the World Rally Championship for Manufacturers on this 10th round of the WRC season.

Overall, the first five cars were covered by only 7.9 seconds after eight tests and almost 96 kms of competition around the picturesque Bellingen area.

Following Mikkelsen were Northern Irishman Kris Meeke, who led in his Citroen through stages three to six, and three-time Australia winner Mikko Hirvonen of Finland, driving for the M-Sport Ford team.

5.00PM: HYUNDAI Motorsport drivers Chris Atkinson and Thierry Neuville both experienced mechanical difficulties during the second runs through the Bellingen and Newry.

Neuville dropped almost two minutes and plunged from sixth to 11th in Coates Hire Rally Australia after breaking the rear suspension in his Hyundai i20 in the Bellingen stage.

"I went a little wide in one of the first corners and hit a stone or something at the exit,"Neuville said.

"I thought it was OK but 1km afterwards something broke and the wheel was moving.

"A small part in the rear suspension had broken but I was able to fix it and continue."

Atkinson lost more than a minute in Newry.

His i20 trailed its sump guard all afternoon and the rear began to handle awkwardly midway through the test.

"I didn't understand what it was and I didn't want to take any risks," Atkinson said.

"We'll take a look at service tonight. We need to take the sump guard off and check it out but we didn't have time between stages."

To complete an unhappy couple of stages for the Korean manufacturer, Hayden Paddon reported a loose brake pedal and a flashing oil pressure warning light in his i20.

Jari-Matti Latvala was fastest through both stages from Sébastien Ogier in Volkswagen Polo Rs.

He climbed from fifth to second, just 2.1sec behind Kris Meeke, with Ogier 0.5sec back in third.

Andreas Mikkelsen and Mikko Hirvonen, who were tied in second, ceded a few seconds and were fourth and fifth.

12.30PM: TWO consecutive fastest times for Kris Meeke promoted the Citroen DS3 driver into the lead of Coates Hire Rally Australia midway through the opening day.

He climbed from third to first after winning the Bellingen and Newry tests, returning to service in Coffs Harbour with a 2.4 second advantage over Andreas Mikkelsen's Volkswagen Polo R.

Meeke, eighth in the start order, made the most of roads swept clean of gravel by those ahead.

"I did the best job I could. When you are eighth on the road you like to think you can lead," Meeke said.

"We'll soldier on and see what happens in the second pass."

Tyre selection was the big talking point. Mud in the opening stage gave way to drier conditions and the choices were varied as drivers searched for the best mix of Michelin's hard and soft compounds for the inconsistent grip.

Mikkelsen was unsure whether hard rubber was the best choice but the Norwegian was 0.9sec clear of Mikko Hirvonen's similarly-shod Ford Fiesta RS overall. Hirvonen was edged out of fastest time by just 0.3sec by Meeke through Newry.

Early leader Sébastien Ogier found the drier conditions more difficult as road opener and the Frenchman dropped more than 10sec in Newry to slide to fourth in his Polo R, 8.4sec off the lead.

He was 0.6sec ahead of team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, who bled the brakes before Bellingen to fix his opening stage issue.



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