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Mikkelsen leads Rally of Australia after day 1

Associated Press Associated Press 18/11/2016

SYDNEY — Volkswagen put itself in a position to quit the World Rally Championship in style when its top drivers dominated the opening day Friday of the season's final event, Rally Australia.

The German carmaker has said it will leave the championship at the end of the season after winning the drivers' and constructors' titles in each of the last four years.

That leaves its drivers, including newly crowned world champion Sebastien Ogier, without jobs next season, but Ogier and Norwegian teammate Andreas Mikkelsen did their best on Friday to pique the interest of other teams.

Mikkelson finished a packed first day of 11 stages 15.4 seconds ahead of Ogier, on target to give Volkswagen a one-two finish in the drivers' championship.

He started the rally in third place on the overall standings, 14 points behind Hyundai's Thierry Neuville.

But Mikkelsen was 22.5 seconds ahead of Neuville after day one.

"We want to be second in the (drivers') championship so we have to give it everything," Mikkelsen said. "I want to give Volkswagen the win it deserves."

The opening day featured two runs over special stages at Utungun, Bakers Creek, and Northbank in New South Wales state, and a new version of the forest-based Newry stage. Newry was shortened from 25 kilometers to 11 kilometers because of concerns over extreme dust.

Mikkelsen was fastest on the opening stage which set the tone for the day. He lost the lead on the second stage but regained it on the third, which began outside the famous Pub With No Beer, and held it for the remainder of the day. By the service time control point in the middle of the day his lead was more defendable.

"The car feels perfect, really nice," he said. "I want to sit in it forever."

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