The 15 short special stages that made up the opening day of Rally Australia allowed the Citroen Junior Team to shine. Thanks to five fastest stage times, Sebastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia end the day in second place.
Conrad Rautenbach and Daniel Barritt return
to Kingscliff within sight of a points-scoring place.
Having acclimatised perfectly to the mild winter of the southern hemisphere, the Citroen Junior Team put in a brilliant performance on the opening day's stages of Rally Australia. Throughout the 15 short and sharp special stages – with only one exceeding 20 kilometres – the two C4 WRCs avoided all the problems posed by this fresh event in New South Wales.
Ogier entered the action perfectly by setting a pair of fastest times to take the overall lead after the opening two Tweed super special stages on Thursday night. On Friday, the reigning Junior World Rally Champion maintained a rapid pace on the sprint event to claim second overall behind Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala.
"I'm particularly pleased to have found the right pace from the opening stage because this is something I have struggled with slightly up to now," he said. "I'm aware that we have enjoyed a good road position. There's been enough wind to ensure that hanging dust has not been a problem and I've benefitted from good road conditions."
In the afternoon, the Frenchman put used tyres onto the front of his car to optimise his chances of another strong performance through the two Tweed super specials held in town which closed Day One.
"We needed to up our pace and attack in order to stay in touch with Jari-Matti," he explained.
"While we were careful in the morning, it was important to push during the afternoon. On the final stage before the regroup, we were slowed down by dust over the final 200 metres. Our strategy at the end of the day worked perfectly and we managed to further reduce the gap to Latvala. We're not asking ourselves any questions, and up to now we can be very pleased by the way that the rally has gone."
Conrad Rautenbach was 10th after the two Thursday night super specials and he fought to get into the points throughout the opening day. He got past Ford's Khalid Al Qassimi in the morning and then set off in pursuit of the Munchi's Ford team's Federico Villagra.
"We had some electrical problems last night but this morning it was better," reported the Zimbabwean. "On the long stage I thought I had a puncture and I lost a bit of time because I slowed down. We found a good compromise with the car set-up though."
Throughout the second loop of stages, the C4 WRC crew continued to make progress.
"It was a good day," concluded Rautenbach. "We were happy enough with the initial set-up on the car but we adapted it during the day to suit the characteristics of these stages. The car is working very well and I have a good feeling with it. We're close to a point-scoring eighth place and that will be my objective for tomorrow."