Andreas Mikkelsen regained the lead of Rally Turkey after winning the last of Friday morning’s opening loop of tough gravel speed tests.
Stage info: SS3/4
SS3: Ula 1, 21.75km
Another long test that begins with twists and turns on roads that alternate between rough and smooth. A couple of small crests hide corners immediately afterwards that could pose problems, before the stage opens out and becomes quicker at 8km. A very rocky section at 16.5km leads into a fast finale with a couple of tricky bends just before the finish.
SS4: Çiçekli 1, 12.57km
Çiçekli is incredibly twisty and relatively slow, so drivers must keep an eye on engine temperatures and tyre wear at the end of a long, hot loop. Two newly-graded sections are likely to dig up with the passage of each car but it’s the constant corners that characterise this stage - and offer a real chance for drivers to make a difference.
He edged Sébastien Ogier by a tenth of a second through the 12.57km Çiçekli test, the shortest of the morning, and returned to the Asparan service park with a 6.3sec advantage over Craig Breen in his Hyundai i20.
Mikkelsen was the only driver to gamble on Michelin’s medium compound tyres on the rocky tracks and completed the loop with the rubber in good condition. “I think the middle stage made the difference, I really tried to save them on that one. I think mediums were the correct choice,” he said.
Breen, who demoted overnight leader Mikkelsen in today’s opening test, had the compliment returned in Çiçekli.
“I was just a little bit too cautious in places. I had a big impact at the start on the front left and thought I might have had a puncture but everything seems OK. This afternoon will be hard, it will be all about survival,” explained the Citroën C3 driver.
Those lower in the start order had more grip on roads swept clean of sand and stones by drivers ahead and Mads Østberg benefited to hold third. The Norwegian was 1.9sec adrift of team-mate Breen and 4.9sec clear of championship leader Thierry Neuville.
Belgian Neuville was the exception to the cleaning rule. As first on the road he had the worst of the conditions in his Hyundai i20 but nevertheless won the middle stage of the loop in Ula.
“We were helped by the dust at the start of the first stage because I had a clean run. It was a disaster to be first on the road but this last stage was the best. There were less big stones on the road but more sand,” he said.
Hayden Paddon was fifth in another i20, the Kiwi concerned about his car’s handling in Ula and fearing he had broken something at the rear. Paddon was 7.3sec behind Neuville and 2.8sec clear of Jari-Matti Latvala’s Toyota Yaris.
The Finn regretted an over-cautious approach and lacked grip in Çiçekli but held a slender 0.4sec advantage over Ogier’s Ford Fiesta.
Yaris duo Esapekka Lappi and Ott Tänak were eighth and ninth, both complaining of a lack of traction. “It’s skipping on the big stones and not really absorbing anything,” said Tänak.
Teemu Suninen completed the top 10 but Fiesta team-mate Elfyn Evans continued to struggle. The Welshman conceded a further two minutes due to a suspected broken differential casing that created an oil leak and initially threatened retirement.