Runaway overnight leader Thierry Neuville was first to fall when he suffered a front-left puncture following contact with a large rock on stage 11. The Belgian had gone quickest on the day’s first and second stages to build a lead of more than one minute in his Citroen C2 Super 1600.
But it wasn’t to last after he hit trouble five kilometres into stage 11. “We touched something, a rock I think, after taking a big cut,” said Neuville. “At first there was nothing but then I realised we had a slow puncture. We drove for two kilometres before we stopped and changed. We lost three minutes and maybe we should have stopped sooner.”
Hans Weijs Jr made the most of Neuville’s delay to move into the lead, which he gradually extended as the day progressed before suffering a puncture of his own on a rock, hidden in a deep cut, approximately nine kilometres from the end of the day’s penultimate test. Ancian, Mathieu Arzeno and the recovering Neuville all had moments through the corner with only Ancian emerging from the stage with a full set of inflated tyres.
“We were lucky because we managed to get back on the road without any problem,” said Ancian, a one-time adversary of former Junior world champion Sebastien Ogier. “It was an incredible sight to see so many cars off but we managed to stay alive.”
As a result of all the drama, Ancian, who damaged the front-right corner of his Suzuki Swift Super 1600 when he went off the road after the flying finish of stage 12, takes a lead of 1m41.3s over Weijs Jr into Sunday’s final four stages. Neuville is third with Arzeno fourth having led the rally on Friday morning.
Arzeno initially took advantage of Neuville’s woe on Saturday morning only to suffer a front-right puncture six kilometres from the end of stage 11, which damaged his C2’s brakes and resulted in him dropping behind the recovering Neuville on the next test. Prior to suffering his second puncture on stage 15, Arzeno also lost more than a minute going off the road and getting stuck on the same test.
Junior championship leader Aaron Burkart suffered a disastrous 11th stage. He stopped to change a damaged tyre after 18 kilometres and rejoined behind Todor Slavov. He was catching the Bulgarian when he failed to spot a rock turning into a fast right-hander, hit it and suffered another puncture.
The German was delayed again after going off into a ditch on the second Ungersberg stage on Saturday afternoon. He is fifth overnight almost 13 minutes adrift of leader Ancian.
Todor Slavov lost more than 30 seconds on Saturday’s opening test when he slid into a ditch and got stuck momentarily. However, he fought back and is sixth overnight in his Renault Clio R3.
Having replaced his Ford Fiesta R2’s gearbox and clutch at final service on Friday, Harry Hunt lost valuable seconds when he suffered a front-left puncture three kilometres from the end of stage 11.
Rally results links on wrc.com: