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Mikkelsen hangs on to lead after clutch problems

COFFS HARBOUR (AUSTRALIA) (AFP) – 

Clutch pedal problems threatened Andreas Mikkelsen’s hopes of ending his Volkswagen career with a win in Rally Australia as his overnight lead was drastically reduced in Saturday’s second leg.

The Norwegian kept French world champion Sebastien Ogier and New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon at bay during a sweltering day around Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales.

However, a mechanical problem in the final country speed test slashed his advantage to just two seconds over Ogier with one day remaining.

His 12 second 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 9.2 seconds to Ogier.

“I cut a corner like I had lots of others,” Mikkelsen said.

“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 Belgian Thierry Neuville in their fight for the runners-up position.

Paddon was first to attack Mikkelsen in the opening 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 in the morning. The same tracks were cleaner in the afternoon, but with the thermometer climbing above 35 Celsius tyre wear became an issue for all drivers.

Paddon ended 10 seconds 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 in the morning.

Despite overshooting a junction in hanging dust, Dani Sordo climbed two places to fifth.

A rejuvenated Jari-Matti Latvala climbed to 11th after Friday?s suspension problems, the Finn winning two stages.

Drivers tackle four tests before the rally-closing Power Stage, with bonus points for the fastest three drivers.

The five stages cover 57.18km in Sunday?s final leg.

Standings after Saturday’s special stages:

1. Andreas Mikkelsen-Anders Jaeger (NOR/VW Polo-R) 2 hours 15minutes 6.2 seconds, 2. Sebastien Ogier-Julien Ingrassia (FRA/VW Polo-R) at 2.0, 3. Hayden Paddon-John Kennard (NZL/Hyundai i20) 12.0, 4. Thierry Neuville-Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL/Hyundai i20) 33.8, 5. Dani Sordo-Marc Marti (ESP/Hyundai i20) 59.2, 6. Mads Ostberg-Ola Floene (NOR/Ford Fiesta RS) 1:00.6, 7. Eric Camilli-Benjamin Veillas (FRA/Ford Fiesta RS) 1:21.7, 8. Ott Tanak-Raigo Molder(EST/Ford Fiesta RS) 2:19.9, 9. Lorenzo Bertelli-Simone Scattolin (ITA/Ford Fiesta RS) 4:56.6, 10. Esapekka Lappi-Janne Ferm (FIN/Skoda Fabia R5) 5:22.7, 11. Jari-Matti Latvala-Miikka Anttila (FIN/VW Polo-R) 7:33.8.

Stage winners

Mikkelsen 2 (SS14, SS18), Latvala 2 (SS13, SS15), Ogier 1 (SS17), Paddon 1 (SS12), Neuville 1 (SS16).

© 2016 AFP

Article source: http://www.france24.com/en/20161119-mikkelsen-hangs-lead-after-clutch-problems