SS4/5: Mud-master Latvala
Jari-Matti Latvala slid through the rain and mud to lead Orlen 74th Rally Poland after Friday morning’s speed tests.
Stage info: SS4/5
SS4: Swietajno 1, 19.60km
A slightly shorter version of the stage driven 12 months ago. At the start, a narrow and bumpy cobbled section leads onto soft gravel, but the roads become wider as the test progresses. The opening 1.5km passes through a forest but the rest of the stage crosses open fields with tall grass on either side. It is littered with fast jumps, the most famous being Rosochackie.
SS5: Stare Juchy 1, 13.50km
Initially it is narrow, fast and open through trees up to the village of Gorlówko. It leaves the trees behind but remains fast with grass down the middle of the road in places. There is a spectacular jump at the midpoint. Identical route to 2016.
He won two special stages and finished second in the other two in his Toyota Yaris to lead Thierry Neuville by 4.5sec. Title rivals Ott Tänak and Sébastien Ogier were third and fourth as the leading quartet pulled clear.
Persistent rain made the sandy gravel roads extremely slippery, patches of reasonable grip giving way to treacherously greasy sections with no warning.
Latvala won Swietajno and finished second in Stare Juchy to add to his strong start, but not all was plain-sailing. He struggled with a broken windscreen wiper and missing aero from the front right of his Yaris after clipping a chicane.
“One of the wipers broke, it was a little disturbing,” he said. “We changed them round so the wiper on my side was working. It’s very tricky and there was a lot of mud in places,” he said.
Neuville, Ogier and Tänak swapped positions with every stage but fastest time for Neuville in Stare Juchy promoted the Belgian to second in his Hyundai i20.
“That was better. I was quite committed except for one or two corners when I braked too early for the chicanes. I knew that if I went off the road I would just go into the fields and lose time but not damage the car,” he said.
Tänak was 0.5sec behind, losing second in his Fiesta after stalling at the start of Stare Juchy. “It’s pretty tricky, a lot of changing conditions. Sometimes grip is good, sometimes it’s bad. If it’s bad, then we go into the ditch!” said the Estonian.
Team-mate and road opener Sébastien Ogier was 2.3sec behind in fourth. As conditions deteriorated with the passage of every car, those staring further down the order had no chance to match the pace of the top four.
Hayden Paddon was 43.6sec off the lead in fifth in his i20, 2.1sec ahead of team-mate Dani Sordo, who spun in a fast corner in Stare Juchy. Juho Hänninen, World Rally Car debutant Teemu Suninen, Elfyn Evans and Stéphane Lefebvre completed the leaderboard.
Andreas Mikkelsen (above) lost 90sec after hitting a tree stump and damaging his Citroën C3’s rear left suspension. Team-mate Craig Breen continued to lose time with a broken driveshaft in his Citroën C3. With only two-wheel drive, the Irishman was more than seven minutes adrift.
Esapekka Lappi retired his Yaris from fifth place in Swietajno with broken front right suspension.
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