The stage coach sweeping the rally routes

IT'S the greatest leveller of a field in world motorsport.

Far from being pole position, running first in the World Rally Championship brings an added need for performance by way of disadvantage.

Of "sweeping the roads" of rocks and hazards for your competitors, of either finding or ruing the fastest driving lines over 318km over 24 stages in the closest WRC drivers championships in 15 years.

For the first car on stage, champions and current leaders Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia of M-Sport Ford, this weekend can deliver their sixth world title, an achievement that would surely lift their multi-champion status to that of rally legends.

It would complete 15 years of total world rally domination by the French, following the successful reign of Sebastien Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena, the winners of nine straight titles.

MARQUE OF A CHAMPION: Reigning WRC champ Sebastien Ogier guided the field through the opening stages at Lowanna today, as first car through the Kennards Hire Rally Australia stages in the Orara Valley.
MARQUE OF A CHAMPION: Reigning WRC champ Sebastien Ogier guided the field through the opening stages at Lowanna today, as first car through the Kennards Hire Rally Australia stages in the Orara Valley. Trevor Veale

In running as the top driver of the field this morning, Ogier spent the morning laying tyre tracks for the pursuing chasers benefiting from light rain.

"The only thing that I really have is the titles and that gives me the chance to be a little bit more relaxed," Ogier said.

"Of course, if I get a sixth one it will be nice, but it won't change my life so much. It's not liking winning the first one.

"I have a small advantage for that, but the pressure is on. I don't see anything else other than winning the title this weekend and I will give it everything I've got."

In his dust flew WRC title contender and reigning Rally Australia champion Thierry Neuville of Hyundai.

The Belgian, seemingly the next heir to the WRC, faces a career-defining weekend.

By staying roadworthy with his heels dug flat to the floor, Neuville can mount an all or nothing bid on the testing Coffs Coast stages.

"I will do my job to the maximum. The last couple of rallies have been challenging and this one will be as well," Neuville said.

"We won't give up so close to our main goal. In this situation it's already something positive to know that I secured my future (at Hyundai) already. If it (the championship) won't be this year - but hopefully it will - I know I have more chances to come again. That relaxes me a little bit."

Mathematically Ott Tanak could also claim the World Rally Championship with a win at Kennards Hire Rally Australia, but he would also needed Ogier and Neuville to have a weekend of tough luck.

"For us it's quite simple. We have no strategy - even if we are ahead of these two (Ogier and Neuville) it won't change anything. The only aim is to win the rally and the Power Stage," Tänak said.



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