Estonian Ott Tanak leads in Germany as Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier stay within reach.
The lead changed hands four times on Friday at ADAC Rallye Deutschland before Ford Fiesta driver Ott Tänak emerged from the final muddy asphalt speed test with a 5.7sec advantage over Andreas Mikkelsen.
Storms turned the narrow and bumpy Mosel vineyard tracks and Saarland country lanes into a mudbath. All the leading drivers spent time off the road as they fought for grip in treacherous conditions.
Estonian Tänak won three of the seven special stages covering 108.51km, but was fortunate to survive the day.
“It’s been a tricky day – the second loop especially was really extreme – and the conditions were really unpredictable. Once we were really lucky. On a hairpin I totally lost sight of the road and dropped down the bank. It was nothing special – no wrong speed or anything like that – but it just proves that sometimes you have to have a little bit of luck as well,” Tanak said.
“This afternoon, everyone said that I was really brave to take this tyre choice [three full wet tyres] but in the end I was confident in myself and in my decision and it turned out to be the right call. The tyres worked really well and we are here in first place at the end of the day.
“There’s still a long way to go and as we’ve seen in the past anything can happen in Baumholder. For sure it will still be a bit damp in the morning, but hopefully not as extreme as it was today. We had a really good test there last week, and a really good feeling with the car, so I see no reason why we can’t be as fast as we were today.”
Ironically, the morning was drier than expected and tyre choice proved difficult. The afternoon rain meant Michelin’s full wet ‘monsoon’ tyres were pressed into use for the first time since being introduced 12 months ago.
Mikkelsen made the most of them to hold second in a Citroën C3 after taking a surprise lead earlier. His low start position meant he faced dirtier roads as those ahead dragged mud and stones onto the surface when they cut corners.
The enthralling fight for the championship between Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier took myriad twists and turns. Neuville slid off the road and damaged his Hyundai i20’s aero package this morning and again in the final stage.
Thierry Neuville is third for Hyundai in Germany.
“I am pleased to have made it through the day. It’s been tough from start to finish,” Neuville said.
“Tyre choice has really dictated our performance, so it is a relief that we are in a provisional podium position in third place. We made a little mistake on the opening loop, with a brief trip off the road, but thankfully we didn’t lose a huge amount. In these conditions, being first on the road wasn’t too much of a handicap but there were still plenty of surprises in the stages.
“The afternoon was much the same, and in the final stage of the day we went wide and were really lucky to avoid something far worse. We are still in the game but we’ll definitely be looking for a better run on Saturday.”
Ogier was unhappy with his Fiesta’s set-up. He spun in the opener, but held the upper hand over the recovering Belgian until the final test when he pirouetted again. He lost 20sec, allowing Neuville to overnight in third with a 2.4sec advantage.
Elfyn Evans overcame understeer to hold fifth in another Fiesta, with Juho Hänninen sixth, despite sliding his Toyota Yaris into the Mosel grapes this morning.
Dani Sordo led briefly before missing a corner under braking and his i20 plunged 40 metres into bushes and trees. The other major retirement was Esapekka Lappi, who crashed his Yaris into a ditch when sixth.
Saturday accounts for almost half the rally’s distance and features the infamous mixed surface Panzerplatte tank training roads and narrow country lanes. Four morning stages are repeated in the afternoon, adding up to 146.67km of action.
O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Ford Fiesta 1hr 07min 23.0sec
A Mikkelsen / A Jaeger NOR Citroën C3 + 5.7sec
T Neuville / N Gilsoul BEL Hyundai i20 + 28.2sec
S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Ford Fiesta + 30.6sec
E Evans / D Barritt GBR Ford Fiesta + 52.1sec
J Hänninen / K Lindström FIN Toyota Yaris + 1min 14.7sec
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