Norway's Andreas Mikkelsen has continued to set the pace through the opening day of WRC Rally Australia to build a lead of more than 20secs with Friday's gravel action completed.

It wasn't till stage five that Mikkelsen's sequence of stage wins was interrupted when his Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville set a fastest time, albeit edging Mikkelsen by a mere 0.1secs on stage four.

Mikkelsen returned to the pace-setter role to win the final gravel stage of the day and he leads the event by 20.9secs from the Citroen of Northern Ireland's Kris Meeke after the second loop of the mainly forest stages to the north of Coffs Harbour.

Neuville runs in third place trailing Meeke by 2.21s while Toyota's Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland) is fourth ahead of Ireland's Craig Breen (Citroen) and the Ford Fiesta of Ott Tanak (Estonia).


To complete the opening day of the rally the crews will make two runs through the 1.27km Destination NSW super special stage at the Coffs Harbour beachfront.
New Zealand's Hayden Paddon has completed the afternoon stages holding seventh position.

Paddon set out to gain places by opting for a full set of soft compound tyres in the afternoon stages.

It looked like a promising gamble with Paddon moving up to fifth after stage five but he slipped back behind Latvala and Tanak when the tyres overheated in the second part of 26.68km Sherwood stage.

``It was okay for the first two [stages] but unfortunately, we damaged them too much and we had one bad tyre on the car for the last stage. It lost the balance of the car and probably wasn't the right choice."

Paddon had been aiming to find a top-four position to secure a more advantageous road position for Saturday which begins with the 49km Nambucca stage.

``It makes it difficult from here because we really wanted to get into that top four. Fifth on the road will be difficult," said Paddon.

While rain has avoided the event thus far it is still forecast for the Coffs Coast region but Paddon is hoping the roads remain dry.

``It [rain] wouldn't help us because we have used more soft tyres than the others. That's a lose-lose for us."

Paddon trails Tanak by just 2.1secs and is 10.7s ahead of world champion Sebastien Ogier who sits back in eighth place after a day opening the road and also struggling with his Ford Fiesta bugged by an intermittent gearshift fault.

The New Zealand-built Mazda2 AP4 car being campaigned by Australian driver Brendan Reeves has performed strongly today.

The latest car constructed by the Auckland-based Force Motorsport team is running 13th overall, behind the 11 WRC cars and the Ford Fiesta R5 of Finnish teenager Kalle Rovanpera and is leading the Australian crews.

The Kiwi crew of Mike Young and Malcolm Read moved up one position this afternoon in their Citroen DS3 R3T to 21st place and are the leading two-wheel-drive team.