Sebastien Ogier maintained the lead of Rally Australia in the opening loop of Sunday’s final leg but a charging Jari-Matti Latvala continued to pile on the pressure on his Volkswagen team-mate.
As drivers returned to service following three stages in the New South Wales countryside north of Coffs Harbour, Ogier was 8.7sec clear of his Polo R colleague. Just a repeat of the three stages, covering just under 45km, remained before the finish.
After ceding 2.0sec in the opening stage, Ogier regained 1.4sec through the 10.86km Bucca test, only for Latvala to regain another 2.5sec in the 9.23km Wedding Bells.
Ogier was fastest in Bucca but only seventh in Wedding Bells, although the Frenchman insisted all remained under control.
“It was slippery at the beginning and in that section I didn’t take any risks. I can afford to. Everything is going to plan and I’m trying to control it,” said Ogier.
Despite second fastest time in Wedding Bells behind Kris Meeke’s Citroen DS3, Latvala was deflated. “I was pushing too hard, I did a mistake. It was a bit too much, there were too many slippery places that gave me surprises,” said the Finn.
Andreas Mikkelsen was cruising in third. The Norwegian held a comfortable 44.4sec advantage over Meeke, who stretched the gap over fifth-placed Mikko Hirvonen to 4.8sec.
Mads Østberg and Hayden Paddon continued to duel over sixth. Østberg took time back from the Kiwi in both stages and the Citroen DS3 pilot was 6.1sec ahead, Paddon having inflicted front end damage to his Hyundai i20 after a heavy landing.
Thierry Neuville, Elfyn Evans and Robert Kubica completed the leaderboard.
Nasser Al-Attiyah led WRC 2 after Yazeed al Rajhi, who moved back to the front in the opening stage, retired when a branch pierced his Fiesta RRC’s radiator.