Championship leader Juho Hanninen started the day-closing 19.92-kilometre Moselland test 11.9s ahead of Ott Tanak only to lose control on a patch of gravel two kilometres from the end of the run and rip the right-rear wheel from his Skoda Fabia striking a concrete block.
“It had been good before then but it was quite tricky with gravel on the corners without having markings on your pace notes,” said the Finn. “We hit the concrete and lost the wheel. It was stupid.”
It got worse for the Austrian Red Bull Skoda squad when Hanninen’s team-mate Hermann Gassner Jr, who was third overall, ripped the right-rear wheel off his Fabia striking the same lump of concrete. With both drivers facing exclusion if they had attempted to limp back to service in Trier on three wheels, they elected to incur 10-minute SupeRally penalties for retiring from the day.
Their misfortune has handed Ott Tanak a huge boost in his efforts to claim his second victory in the SWRC this season. The Estonian was a sensational sixth fastest overall on stage two but time lost with an overshoot on the opening stage meant he was always playing catch up to Hanninen at the wheel of his MM Motorsport Ford Fiesta until his rival hit trouble.
Karl Kruuda is a distant second overnight in his Skoda to make it an Estonian one-two. The teenager suffered a spin on stage two and was also slowed by gearbox and brake issues.
Nasser Al-Attiyah is third in his Barwa World Rally Team Fiesta. The Qatari was slowed when Bernardo Sousa crashed ahead of him on stage three and is only 9.3s behind Kruuda heading into Saturday’s stages. “It’s my first time here so this morning has just been a learning experience for me,” said Al-Attiyah.
German wildcard entrant Felix Herbold is an impressive fourth in his Fiesta, 7.5s behind Al-Attiyah. “I want to get closer to the others and keep up my speed,” he said.
Hungarian Frigyes Turan is seventh after a fraught start to his rally in his MM Motorsport Fiesta. “We went off the road on stage one when I put the front right wheel off the road kilometres from the start of the stage, and ended up stopping for four minutes,” he said. “Then a brake problem developed in stage two. I’m disappointed because shakedown was really good yesterday.”
Martin Prokop had led after the first stage in his Fiesta only to crash heavily three kilometres into the very next stage, ripping a wheel off his car in the process. Portugal’s Bernardo Sousa made it to the five-kilometre mark on stage three before he crashed and inflicted damage to the right-hand side of his Fiesta. Both drivers are expected to restart under SupeRally on day two.