Thierry Neuville upped the pressure on ADAC Rallye Deutschland leader Ott Tänak as their thrilling fight continued on Saturday morning’s second loop of Saarland speed tests.
Stage info: SS10/11
SS10: Freisen 2, 14.78km
Freisen is the first of two fast country lane stages, including a couple of chicanes to keep speeds in check. The roads are narrow for much of the test with plenty of opportunities to cut corners, although bales have been positioned in places to prevent bigger cuts. It starts in Berschweiler and ends south of Freisen, crossing from Rhineland-Palatinate state into Saarland en route.
SS11: Römerstraße 2, 12.28km
Another narrow countryside test, although there are a couple of forays onto wider main roads – a 2km section after the start with sweeping corners between fields and a short link after 5.6km. There are plenty of fast straights, some parts are lined by trees and a couple of chicanes to control the speeds. A small jump on the outskirts of Urexweiler followed by a tricky left turn will keep drivers focused.
He lost a handful of seconds earlier when he stalled his Hyundai i20 in a corner but bounced back to win the second pass through both the Freisen and Römerstraße tests. He reduced his deficit to 5.0sec ahead of this afternoon’s daunting Panzerplatte military road stages.
On roads dirtier than the initial pass as stones had been dragged onto the asphalt, the Belgian was 0.2sec faster than Tänak in Freisen and 1.5sec up in the next.
“The gap is still small and the rally is still long, so everything is fine. When the car stalled we couldn’t get it restarted but luckily Nicolas looked at the centre console and noticed the fuse. He pushed it back in and we managed to carry on,” said the Hyundai i20 pilot.
Tänak was unfazed by Neuville’s momentum. “I pushed as much as I can and had a clean run. The main thing was to maintain the gap. This afternoon will be a very different story and very new characteristics - now the big stages are waiting!” said the Toyota Yaris man.
Sébastien Ogier continued to hold off Kris Meeke in third but lost more time to those in front. The Frenchman trailed Neuville by 25.3sec but had 3.7sec in hand over Ulsterman Meeke, who continued to focus on manufacturer points for his Toyota Gazoo Racing squad.
Fifth was Jari-Matti Latvala in another Yaris, finally feeling more comfortable in his car after a ragged morning. The Finn was almost half a minute clear of Andreas Mikkelsen, who lost time after sliding his i20 into a Römerstraße ditch.
Dani Sordo posted top four times in both stages as he regained ground after last night’s gearbox problem. The Spaniard was up to seventh in his i20, overhauling Esapekka Lappi, who spun his Citroen C3 and lost 15sec in Freisen after locking his front tyres.
Takamoto Katsuta and Gus Greensmith completed the leaderboard after WRC 2 frontrunners Stéphane Lefebvre and Nicoilas Ciamin retired in consecutive stages.
After service in Bostalsee, drives face the first of two afternoon loops on Baumholder’s tough tank training roads, which are expected to be littered with stones and rocks. Most expect these to be the rally’s defining sections.