Sébastien Ogier took a commanding lead into the final leg of ADAC Rallye Deutschland after giving his rivals another lesson in how to drive in the Baumholder military proving ground on Saturday.
The three-time world champion started the second day trailing Volkswagen team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen by 4.3s. But nine stages later – five of which were run on the tricky Baumholder asphalt – Ogier emerged with a 33.4s advantage at the top of the leaderboard.
Previous results show that the Frenchman is a big fan of the Panzerplatte stages – and he didn’t disappoint this time around. After trading seconds with Mikkelsen on the first four tests, he obliterated his rival on the first run through the 40.80km Panzerplatte Lang – a stage that was later halted by Stéphane Lefebre’s accident – by going 13.5s faster.
And the trend continued on the second loop in the afternoon. As Mikkelsen gambled by taking hard tyres for the second run through Panzerplatte Lang, Ogier opted for soft rubber as he expected a wetter road. The Frenchman’s decision proved to be the right one and he duly added another 13.1s to his overall advantage.
“We had a difficult tyre choice for these last two stages but I think we managed the soft tyres pretty well and had a clean stage,” Ogier said. “I’m happy and I hope it’s a comfortable gap for tomorrow. But we have vineyard sections which can be tricky and almost 60kms to race on Sunday. I will have to push.”
After starting the day in the lead of the rally, Mikkelsen’s lack of pace on Saturday meant he ended the day facing the prospect of defending his second place from the hard-charging Hyundai duo of Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville [below] on the final leg.
Sordo leapt past his team-mate on Saturday’s last stage and finished the day only 3.6s behind Mikkelsen. Neuville, meanwhile, was just 0.4s behind his Spanish team-mate in fourth.
Referring to his decision to gamble on hard tyres in the afternoon, Mikkelsen said: “I had to try something different. In some places the car was quite stable but in some areas it was really hard to get confidence with the lack of grip.”
Sordo was thrilled with his day’s work and the fact that he completed a last-gasp move into third place, while Neuville was all too aware how tough the battle between himself, Sordo and Mikkelsen was likely to be on the final day. With a wry smile on his face, Neuville just said: “It’s going to be tight.” That was an understatement.
Finding more and more asphalt confidence, Hayden Paddon completed the day in fifth place after a clean run of stages, while M-Sport World Rally Team driver Mads Østberg guided his Ford Fiesta RS WRC to sixth place after a lacklustre day that was rounded off by the frustration of him not being able to push in the last stage due to his brakes overheating.
With the top six filled by World Rally Cars, the top performers in the R5 category occupied the four remaining points scoring positions. Esapekka Lappi led home fellow Skoda Fabia drivers Pontus Tidemand, Jan Kopecky and Armin Kremer.