Latvala and Meeke crash in Germany
Morning dramas leave Neuville in front
The Finn had a lead of more than 50 seconds going into the final day, and was on course to deliver a home win for Volkswagen, when his Polo slipped off the road 8km into the opening Dhrontal stage in the Mosel vineyards.
“We were in a comfortable lead, and in that situation you could back off, but I felt I started the stage cleverly,” Latvala explained. “It was very muddy and slippery at the beginning, then we got to the open area and the grip was getting better. We went into a long, long, left-hand corner and it was here that I made a little mistake in the recce.
“The corner tightens and in my notes I had the word ‘hold’, but I took it away in the recce. I thought it would be fine because the stage was run three years ago and I had a feeling you could go almost flat there. The road was dry, I trusted the conditions, but at the end of the corner the rear stepped out and went onto the grass - all because I didn’t have that ‘hold’. I kept full throttle, and thought ‘its coming, it’s coming’ but then it sucked the front in.”
After toppling from the road into the vines, Latvala attempted to find a way back on. “At that moment I felt we were going to get stuck, so I turned right, into the vines, and drove on because I knew the road was somewhere below. We drove down, down and then hit a fence. Five metres to the right and we would have got back onto the stage. We were driving blind [through the vines] I could only hope and wish that we would get back onto the stage. We didn’t succeed.”
Latvala defended his decision not to ease off and protect his lead, which could have netted him a second consecutive rally win and, more importantly, slashed the points deficit to his title rival Sebastien Ogier.
He said: “It’s not easy driving when you have a lead of nearly a minute. If it’s dry then things are easier, but the problem comes when conditions are mixed - like it was [on Dhrontal]. For me it was the slippiest stage of the rally. I could have slowed down, lost maybe 10 or 20 seconds, but it’s not so easy to do because if you lose the rhythm it will be more complicated.
“But the mistake is done. I have done it. It’s the first time I’m in the lead doing a mistake like this and I promise it won’t happen again. Nothing changes in the championship battle with Ogier. The fact is I would have been able to get very close, and make it very exciting. We didn’t do it and we are 44 points behind. But the fight goes on - four rounds to go.”