Neuville, Mikkelsen fight for WRC second place


Sydney (AFP)

Belgian driver Thierry Neuville holds the edge over his rivals in the race for the runner-up spot behind new world champion Sebastien Ogier heading into this week's Rally Australia.

Frenchman Ogier secured his fourth consecutive world championship title by winning the Rally of Catalonia in Spain last month and the focus of the season’s final round is on the fight for second.

That rests between Hyundai Motorsport's Neuville, Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen in a Volkswagen and Hyundai’s other drivers Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo.

Neuville holds a handy points break over Mikkelsen in second place in the championship with Paddon also in contention.

"We are just 14 points ahead of third and 17 points ahead of fourth so it will be tough, but I think it will be hard for them to beat us," Neuville said.

"I like this rally and have always had good speed here. We will try to keep it safe, but still go fast and get some important points for second place."

Rally Australia, starting on Friday, is a 313-kilometre (195 mile) event incorporating 23 stages around Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales state.

For Mikkelsen and his teammates Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala, the race will be an emotional end to Volkswagen’s involvement in the sport it has dominated for the past four years after announcing earlier this month it would no longer take part.

"It is sad, devastating to let go of something so positive, but for sure we will try hard to finish in style after a good year and many good seasons," Mikkelsen said.

New Zealander Paddon put a lot of pressure on himself in Australia last year and said this time it was all about being as relaxed as possible in the lead-up.

"We have a lot of New Zealand fans coming over for the rally and a lot of Australian supporters too, so I’d like a podium finish," he said.