World Champion Sebastien Ogier will take a 1m 01.8s lead into the final day of LOTOS 71st Rally Poland after steering clear of trouble on Saturday’s ten stages.
The third day of the ultra-fast gravel rally was punctuated by a raft of problems for Ogier’s rivals. But the Frenchman used his championship-winning experience and guile to avoid any such dramas. He started the day with a 0.9s advantage and ended it with a 61-second cushion. “It’s been a good day for us. We just need to focus on getting to the finish now,” Ogier said.
Ogier’s closest challenger was once again his team-mate, Andreas Mikkelsen, but his charge faltered after the second stage of the day when he spun and lost 10 seconds. His misery was complete when the brakes on his VW Polo stopped working on the penultimate stage. That was the final act in his surrender to Ogier.
The day’s biggest drama unfolded on SS14, the first run through the 35.17km ‘Goldap 1’ test. Kris Meeke, Robert Kubica and Henning Solberg all dropped vital time when they suffered punctures, while Jari-Matti Latvala suffered near terminal suspension damage when he clouted a rock in his VW Polo.
The stage also accounted for Elfyn Evans who retired after seriously damaging his Ford Fiesta RS WRCs front-left suspension, while Citroen’s Mads Ostberg joined him on the sidelines when he smashed into the same rock and rolled his DS3 WRC.
When all the dust settled on SS14, Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville fought his way up the leaderboard to end the day in an impressive third place. The Belgian had claimed the spot from his team-mate Juho Hanninen late in the day.
Hanninen, who had been finding it hard to drive with a steering wheel that was out of alignment for much of the day, completed the ten stages in fifth place.
He was caught and passed by the recovering Mikko Hirvonen on the penultimate stage but did manage to hold off Latvala by 0.4s in the final super special.
Hirvonen had slowly put his nightmare start to the rally behind him and a number of late night shifts spent reviewing and fixing his pace notes gave him some much needed confidence heading into the final day. “I’m still in the game,” Hirvonen beamed.
Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon held off a strong challenge from Henning Solberg to hold onto his seventh place at the close of the leg, while Kris Meeke’s extensive time loss earlier in the day as he limped through the long stage with a puncture, meant he could only finish ninth. Privateer Martin Prokop rounded out the top-ten in his Ford Fiesta.
Frenchman Stephane Lefebvre continued to set the pace in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship. He was more than a minute ahead of Ireland’s Alastair Fisher (below), while Christian Riedemann filled third.