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Andreas Mikkelsen on track for win to end his #wrc spell with Volkswagen.
He kept world champion #sebastienogier and Hayden Paddon at bay during a sweltering day on the shire roads of New South Wales.
However, a bizarre problem in the final country speed test slashed his advantage to just 2.0sec with one day remaining.
His 12.0sec lead was almost erased when his Volkswagen Polo R’s clutch pedal was bent and pushed down on the brake pedal.
Mikkelsen drove more than half the 14.84km stage with the brakes on and conceded 9.2sec to Ogier.
Mikkelsen said, “I cut a corner like I had lots of others. There was a bang and I think a rock must have hit under the car and bent the clutch pedal across the brake.
"I had to drive the rest of the stage with the brakes on. We used a ratchet strap to bend it back into place.”
Failure to win this final round of the FIA World #rally Championship on the German manufacturer’s last appearance would likely see Mikkelsen fall short in his efforts to overhaul Thierry Neuville in their fight for the runners-up position.
Paddon was first to attack Mikkelsen in the opening Nambucca test. The Kiwi relegated Ogier to third after a stirring drive through the 50.80km marathon.
When it was repeated this afternoon Ogier piled on the pressure, demoting Paddon and closing on Mikkelsen before the Norwegian’s drama.
Road opener Ogier was worst affected by thick gravel on the roads this morning. The same tracks were cleaner this afternoon, but with the thermometer climbing above 35˚C tyre wear became an issue for all drivers.
Paddon ended 10.0sec behind Ogier in his Hyundai i20, but team-mate Neuville fell away from the podium battle. The Belgian regretted choosing hard compound tyres when traction was at its worst this morning.
Despite overshooting a junction in hanging dust, Dani Sordo climbed two places to fifth. He relegated Eric Camilli in the opener and Mads Østberg later.
Østberg eyed Neuville’s fourth place but mid-leg set-up changes affected the handling of his Ford Fiesta RS and he fell back.
Sunday’s final leg heads north of Coffs Harbour for the first time. Drivers tackle four tests before the rally-closing live TV Power Stage, with bonus points for the fastest three drivers. The five stages cover 57.18km.
AP-1Q7G2BN612111 Lorenzo Bertelli
AP-1Q7G286GN2111 Sebastien Ogier
AP-1Q7G2A4PD2111 Andreas Mikkelsen
AP-1Q7G2AKA12111 Ott Tanak
AP-1Q7G2CP3N2111 Hayden Paddon
AP-1Q7G29NG12111 Thierry Neuville
AP-1Q7G2B2W92111 Jari-Matti Latavala
AP-1Q7G1DSW12111 Sebastien Ogier
AP-1Q7G277852111 Lorenzo Bertelli
AP-1Q7G296M52111 Eric Camilli
AP-1Q7FZUPN51W11 Dani Sordo
AP-1Q7G1BTZD2111 Esapekka Lappi
AP-1Q7G28PJD2111 Hayden Paddon
AP-1Q7G1E9DH2111 Ott Tanak
AP-1Q7G27Q252111 Eric Camilli
AP-1Q7FZVZ891W11 Hayden Paddon
AP-1Q7G2D5QN2111 Esapekka Lappi
AP-1Q7G1EUK12111 Andreas MIkkelsen
AP-1Q7G1DA1S2111 Hayden Paddon
AP-1Q7FZVEK91W11 Sebastien Ogier
AP-1Q7G2C5WN2111 Mads Ostberg
AP-1Q7FZWH1S1W11 Mads Ostberg
AP-1Q7G1BBVW2111 Sebastien Ogier
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