Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway won the first special stage and was second in the other on Thursday to lead Rally Australia after the opening day.
Mikkelsen had an overall time of two minutes, 45.3 seconds after the two 1.6km special stages. Kris Meeke of Northern Ireland, who led qualifying earlier in the day, was second in 2:46.2 and Jari-Matti Latvala of Finland was third in 2:46.7.
Sebastien Ogier of France, Mikkelsen’s Volkswagen Motorsport teammate who leads the World Rally Championship standings by 75 points and could clinch the 2013 title with a win this weekend, won the second stage and sits fourth overall in 2:46.8 – 1.5 seconds behind.
Mikkelsen, who leads a WRC event for the first time, clipped a barrier with the left-hand front corner of his car on the second loop of the course.
“The stage was OK but I think the organisers sprayed water on the road after the first pass and suddenly it was super slippery,” Mikkelsen said. “I think we’re OK; no damage.”
Ogier said he looked forward to Friday’s first full day on the gravel roads in the forests outside Coffs Harbour.
“I just tried to keep out of trouble here, but it was tricky because we decided to start with the hard (compound) tyres,” Ogier said. “Not the best in the slippery stuff – we didn’t expect more water on the stage. Tomorrow is the real start of the rally.”
Mikko Hirvonen is fifth overall, with Thierry Neuville, who is closest to Ogier in the standings, sixth.
Coffs Harbour resident Nathan Quinn ended the day 10th on his debut in a Mini.
“I’m learning a lot pretty quickly. Now I can’t wait to get out on the wide roads tomorrow,” Quinn said.
Seventh overall is Mads Ostberg of Norway (Qatar M-Sport), ahead of Russian Evgeny Novikov (Qatar M-Sport) and Khalid Al-Qassimi, United Arab Emirates (Citroen).
The 22-stage, 354km Rally Australia, 10th of 13 stops on the world championship, ends on Sunday.