Sebastien Ogier took a 19.0s lead into Saturday afternoon’s stages at LOTOS 71st Rally Poland after a destructive SS14 turned the leaderboard on its head.
The overnight leader was fastest on three of the morning’s five stages to further extend his advantage over team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen. The Norwegian had started the day only 0.5s behind Ogier but he dropped 12.8s on the day’s second test and fell behind.
“I did a mistake in the beginning at a junction and I couldn’t get the car into reverse,” Mikkelsen explained. “The pace note was a bit wrong. I’m not out of touch and will keep pushing.”
Juho Hanninen capped a confident drive in his Hyundai i20 WRC by completing the top-three, 1m 33.3s behind Mikkelsen. The Finn had already moved up to fourth place when Mads Ostberg crashed out of third on SS14 and he then moved a place higher when compatriot Jari-Matti Latvala suffered a broken strut on SS14.
Without a service halt, Latvala was forced to carry the damage into SS15 and had no choice but to limp through the 14.9km test. He dropped 1m 37s and fell to seventh overall.
Fourth place was filled by Hanninen’s team-mate, Thierry Neuville, while Mikko Hirvonen and Robert Kubica completed the top-six in their respective Ford Fiestas. Hirvonen was only 1.7s behind Neuville, while Kubica was a further 30.1s down after a gruelling morning.
With Latvala holding seventh, Hayden Paddon’s Hyundai followed just behind in eighth. The Kiwi’s i20 WRC was only 10.6s shy of Latvala’s pace.
Privateers Henning Solberg and Martin Prokop completed the top-ten in their Ford Fiestas, but both were close to four minutes behind Ogier’s rally-leading pace.
Citroen’s Kris Meeke, who started the morning in fifth place, arrived at the midday service in 11th place. He dropped an unhealthy amount of time in the infamous SS14 when he picked up a puncture in his DS3 WRC. He decided to limp to the end rather than stopping to change the offending wheel.
Joining Ostberg on the list of retirements after SS14 was M-Sport’s Elfyn Evans. The Welshman suffered terminal front-left suspension damage after he smashed into a rock that was hiding on the inside of a corner.
In the WRC 2 category, Ott Tanak continues to lead. His gap to team-mate Jari Ketomaa is now 1m 03s after the Finn spun in SS14. Martin Kangur lies third, another 1m 34s adrift.