Norway's Mikkelsen leads Rally Australia after day 1

Britain's Kris Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle of Ireland race through a corner during the Rally of Australia, near Coffs Harbour, Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. (Neil Blackbourn/Rally Australia via AP)

Defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen has won five of six special stages on the first day of Rally Australia to hold a 20.9 second overall lead with two days remaining in the 13th and final event of the World Rally Championship

COFFS HARBOUR, Australia — Defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen has won five of six special stages on the first day of Rally Australia to hold a 20.9 second overall lead with two days remaining in the 13th and last event of the World Rally Championship.

The Norwegian driver took command of the rally's opening day Friday when he had a clean sweep of the three morning stages in his Hyundai to build an early 16.6 second lead over Northern Ireland's Kris Meeke, who was driving a Citroen.

Meeke was pressing Mikkelson strongly until he gave away valuable time with an error on special stage three. Entering a corner too fast, Meeke was forced to reverse and allowed Mikkelson to build his advantage.

"I ran wide and brushed the front on a bridge over a creek and I stopped, reversed and lost 10 or 12 seconds," Meeke said.

Belgium's Thierry Neuville, who was the only driver other than Mikkelsen to win a stage Friday, was in third place at the end of the day, 23.1 seconds behind the leader. He remains in contention for overall second place in this year's championship.

France's Sebastian Ogier, who has already clinched his fifth world championship, had the task of sweeping the road for his rivals early Friday and had gear selection problems in his Ford Fiesta, finishing the opening day in eighth place.

Mikkelsen said he is coming to grips with his Hyundai i20 Coupe in only his third outing in the car and was able to take advantage of his favorable ninth place on the road Friday.

"With these roads and this car I can do exactly what I want," Mikkelsen said. "I had a good road position today and had to take advantage of that as much as I could.

"I just feel very comfortable on these type of roads; very fast and flowing with low visibility (due to dust) so you just have to trust your pacing notes and go for it."

The rally continues with six special stages on Saturday, including the 48.89-kilometer ninth stage — the longest of the rally — at the start of the day.

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