Dhrontal is the classic vineyard test. It starts with a cascade of uphill hairpins and remains narrow, tight and twisty throughout, with an ever increasing number of tight bends. It includes the famous ‘gallery’ section where huge crowds pack the hillsides to view long sections of switchback roads. It is fast from the start and there are several surface changes.
How the action unfolded:
With the top two on Rallye Deutschland split by less than one second at the start of today’s final leg, all eyes were on the tense duel between Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville.
In dry but overcast conditions, Sordo took the early advantage, the Spaniard fastest in his Citroen DS3 to eke a slender 3sec lead over Neuville with only one more test to go.
Sordo was first to tackle the stage, and was slower than his rival at the first three split points. He lifted his pace in the second half, however, completing 2.2sec quicker than Neuville.
“At the beginning, I don't know, I think I made a small mistake, but after that I really concentrated and pushed harder,” he said. “The last section was very difficult, with lots of mud around, but we got through okay.”
Asked how he was coping with the pressure of being perhaps one stage away from the first victory of his 10-year WRC career, Sordo said: “All I can do is drive as fast as possible and try not to think about it. If I win then it will be nice. If not, then at least I had a nice fight...”
Neuville was next to complete in his Ford Fiesta RS, acknowledging that it hadn’t been his best performance. “I lost the brakes a little bit and that affected my confidence,” he said. “I used the handbrake too much and overheated the brakes, also I think the set-up could be a bit stiffer.” Asked if he could catch Sordo, Neuville replied: “I’m going to try. Everything is possible.”
Despite the forecast of some light rain later, and no opportunity to change tyres before the stage is run again, both Neuville and Sordo elected to run Michelin’s hard compound rubber, and carry one spare.
Sebastien Ogier was third quickest in his Polo R, 10.1sec slower than Neuville, and focused on fine-tuning his Dhrontal pace notes before a push for three Power Stage points on the second pass.
Ogier’s Volkswagen team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala was fourth fastest, having re-started this morning after his retirement on Saturday. The Finn holds seventh place and is after manufacturers’ championship points today.
Mikko Hirvonen was fifth fastest, the Finn’s priority to consolidate his third place and keep a second Citroen on the podium. “We took it slow, but maybe I shouldn't have gone *that* slow,” he joked. “We were steady, driving to the splits of the guys ahead, and took it really, really carefully.”