Andreas Mikkelsen held a slender lead at PZM 73rd Rally Poland after Friday morning’s speed tests as Hayden Paddon and Ott Tänak piled on the pressure at the top of the leaderboard.
Stage info: SS4 / SS5
SS4: Swietajno 1, 21.14km
This is one of the few stages that is identical to 2015. A narrow and bumpy cobbled section leads onto soft gravel after 850 metres, but the roads become increasingly wider as the test progresses. It passes through fields with tall grass on either side and is littered with fast crests and jumps.
SS5: Stare Juchy 1, 13.50km
This stage is mainly new, although the middle section was driven in 2014. Initially it is narrow, fast and open through the trees. It soon leaves the trees behind but remains fast with grass down the middle of the road in places.
Mikkelsen was second fastest in both the Swietajno and Stare Juchy tests to return to service in Mikolajki with a 2.6sec advantage in his Volkswagen Polo R.
Victory for Paddon in Stare Juchy allowed the Kiwi to climb to second in his Hyundai i20, 3.4sec clear of Tänak, who claimed his first stage win of the rally in the previous test.
Mikkelsen was disappointed with his performance in the final test of the loop. “It wasn’t so good for me. All the other stages were really good but this one just wasn’t the same. But it’s not been a bad morning,” said the Norwegian, who is bidding for a second WRC career win.
Paddon was hampered by understeer and promised there was more to come when the stages are repeated. “We have plenty of things to improve on this afternoon,” he said.
Tänak struggled for grip on the dry and sandy roads in the second part of Stare Juchy but the Estonian was delighted to live up to pre-event predictions for a strong performance.
Sébastien Ogier was fourth in a Polo R. The Frenchman was 9.3sec off the lead but no doubt disappointed that the rain forecast for this morning had not materialised to ease the challenge posed by starting first on the sandy tracks.
Thierry Neuville was concerned about the front left damper on his i20, but the Belgian was fifth ahead of an out-of-sorts Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finn struggled to find a good feeling in his Polo R and lost several seconds with a front right puncture in Swietajno.
Stéphane Lefebvre was 0.1sec behind Latvala in seventh, despite overshooting a junction in his DS 3. Team-mate Craig Breen was eighth with M-Sport duo Eric Camilli and Mads Østberg completing the leaderboard. Østberg struggled for pace all morning and went off the road in Stare Juchy when pushing too hard.