Saturday in Poland:
Neuville heads a thriller
Thierry Neuville leads Orlen 74th Rally Poland after a thrilling and chaotic duel with Ott Tänak on Saturday.
The lead changed hands four times and both suffered time-consuming problems before Neuville ended with a 3.1sec advantage in his Hyundai i20 to carry into Sunday’s finale.
Yesterday’s torrential rain and driving winds gave way to clearer skies and rapidly drying roads, allowing the two WRC title contenders to fight tooth and nail in this eighth round.
As the rally headed north of Mikolajki towards the Russian border, Neuville’s slender overnight lead was short-lived. Tänak grabbed top spot in the second speed test, despite his Ford Fiesta plunging into a field and filling the front air intakes with earth.
Neuville was back ahead two stages later before a dramatic 21.24km Pozezdrze test brought another twist.
Tänak emerged in front, but the aerodynamic rear wing fell off his Fiesta and he faced three more stages with much reduced downforce. His lead was almost 15sec as Neuville conceded 20sec driving most of the test with a rear left puncture.
Tänak could not fend off the Belgian who regained the initiative in the penultimate stage to set up an exciting final day, with heavy rain set to return.
“I had to be careful and keep the car on the road, but at the same time I had to push because a win is possible. I had a lot of rain in the penultimate stage when I was pushing hard. I was very unlucky, but that’s part of the game,” said Neuville.
Tänak struggled with the rear of his Fiesta bouncing about. “It was very risky, very difficult. I tried to be very clean and make no mistakes. It was the best I could do, but sometimes I thought it was going to roll on the bonnet,” said the Estonian.
Jari-Matti Latvala couldn’t hang on to the leading duo but was secure in third until he also fell foul of Pozezdrze. His Toyota Yaris coasted to a halt after a compression with no drive.
His demise promoted Hayden Paddon into third. The Kiwi won three stages in his i20 to distance championship leader Sébastien Ogier by more than a minute.
Two punctures for Ogier cost time and while running on the second flat, he spun his Fiesta into a kerb. Engine issues this afternoon slowed the Frenchman further but he retained a 11.8sec advantage over fifth-placed Dani Sordo.
Sordo was happier in more consistent conditions but an overshoot and a puncture cost time. He ended 22.4sec clear of Teemu Suninen, who again impressed on his top flight debut. A brief stall was his only issue.
Stéphane Lefebvre, Mads Østberg, Elfyn Evans and Andreas Mikkelsen filled the leaderboard as Juho Hänninen fell away with engine problems. Mikkelsen twice missed junctions in his Citroën C3 and slid into a field.
Sunday’s finale comprises two loops of two tests near Mikolajki covering 59.66km.The final 18.68km live TV Power Stage offers bonus points to the fastest five drivers.
Head to WRC+ to see the latest onboard and video reports from Orlen 74th Rally Poland.
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