Neuville was third today, 22.5 sec. behind the leader and sandwiching four-time champion Sébastien Ogier, who had the honour of claiming the inaugural wins on two passes of the new Destination NSW Super Special Stage, spectacularly located between the Coffs Harbour foreshore and adjacent ocean beach.
Big crowds packed the twilight stage, which included a jump, 360-degree turn and a motocross-style banked berm corner.
Tomorrow will be the biggest day of the rally for drivers, with an 8.28am start and 135.19km of competition inland from Nambucca Heads. It includes morning and afternoon passes of the 50.9km Nambucca stage, the event’s longest and one of the drivers’ favourite tests on the WRC calendar.
Ogier’s Super Special Stage wins gained him 1.4sec on the lead Mikkelsen held at the end of the daytime country stages. Mikkelsen, Ogier and Neuville all said they did not expect to be in the top three after today.
“It has been a very good day I have to say,” Mikkelsen said.
“I didn’t expect to lead the rally after being third on the road, but we attacked all day and made no big mistakes.
“We have to attack Nambucca very hard tomorrow morning and I expect Sébastien to be very fast tomorrow and we know he is good with tyre wear so we will have to give it everything and try to keep our distance.”
Finland’s Esapekka Lappi was virtually unchallenged in WRC2, finishing 2min 12.8sec ahead of Peru’s Nico Fuchs as he bids to wrap up the drivers championship in his factory Skoda.
Toyota driver Harry Bates was the top-placed Australian in WRC, in 14th place, but trailed rival Simon Evans (Subaru) by around 38 seconds in their fight for the Kumho Tyre Australian Rally Championship. Subaru driver Molly Taylor is 15th in WRC and third in ARC.
Kennards Hire Rally Australia finishes with a podium presentation in Coffs Harbour's main street at 315pm on Sunday.
Earlier, Mikkelsen finished the nine daytime stages 16.8sec, up on Ogier.