VW Motorsport’s Sebastien Ogier will take a narrow 2.8s lead into the second day of LOTOS 71st Rally Poland after a closely-fought first day on the Masurian region's fast gravel stages.
The reigning world champion continued where he left off after his spectacular win at the recent Rally Italia Sardegna – by driving aggressively and pushing as hard as possible.
Once again, it was a strategy that paid off. Ogier’ Polo R WRC was fastest on two of Thursday’s three stages to head the leaderboard after 34.28km of competitive action.
For once, running first on the road wasn’t a major handicap for Ogier. “This is good fun – really fast,” he said. “I’m happy with the start of the rally and I couldn’t do any better. Tomorrow we will have to continue at this high rhythm and I’m looking forward to it.”
Ogier’s team-mate, Andreas Mikkelsen, filled second place at the end of the leg. He led after the first two stages by driving neatly and keeping a cool head. But he eventually lost the lead to the hard-charging Ogier on the third stage – the 2.5km run around the Mikolajki super special.
Citroen’s Kris Meeke said he liked fast and flowing stages before the rally and it showed on the first cluster of stages. He was third overall, only 4.2s behind Mikkelsen.
“The nature of these roads is fantastic, the commitment is incredible,” Meeke explained. “Paul (Nagle, Meeke’s co-driver) is calling the notes like he’s reading a Sunday paper.”
Local hero Robert Kubica had a mixed day. He was fourth after the first stage but he dropped down the order to 11th on the next test when his Ford Fiesta R WRC lightly rolled into a ditch.
His rally was saved by an army of loyal fans who were on the scene quickly and pushed him back on to the road only seconds after his car had come to rest. The incident only cost him 28.3s but he still finished the leg in 12th place.
With Kubica hitting problems, Hyundai’s Juho Hanninen grasped the opportunity with both hands. He guided his fast-improving i20 WRC to the quickest time on SS2 to move into fourth place, a place that he kept at the end of the leg.
Mads Ostberg’s Citroen DS3 WRC and Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20 WRC filled fifth and sixth places respectively. Ostberg was only 1.1s behind Hanninen, but Neuville found himself 12.2s adrift of his Norwegian rival. He would have been closer if the engine on his car hadn’t cut out part-way through the Mikoljaki super special.
Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon completed the day in seventh, one place ahead of VW’s Jari-Matti Latvala who endured a nightmare start to Rally Poland. He wasn’t happy with the handling of his Polo R WRC and it had dramatically affected his confidence. He was uncharacteristically 23.5s off the lead.
Two more drivers that suffered on the first day were ninth-placed Mikko Hirvonen and tenth-placed Martin Prokop. Hirvonen was lacking confidence and Prokop was nursing a sore back.
Further down the field, Stephane Lefebvre headed the race for the FIA Junior World Rally Championship honours. The Frenchman, winner at round one in Portugal, ended the day 5.1s ahead of Martin Koci. Simone Tempestini was only 0.7s further behind to set up a potentially-fierce battle for the podium places on day two.