WRC leader Thierry Neuville suffered a massive blow to his hopes of a maiden title after broken suspension brought the Belgian to a halt at the end of Saturday’s opening speed test at Rally Turkey.
Stage info: SS8
Yeşilbelde 1, 34.24km
It’s a tough start to Saturday with another long and demanding test. It runs alongside the coast at the start and finish, with dramatic views to the sea below in the final few kilometres. It’s open and smooth initially before becoming rougher, but it’s not until the midpoint that drivers encounter a straight worthy of the name.
Neuville, who led arch-rival Sébastien Ogier by just three-tenths of a second overnight, limped to the finish of the 34.24km Yeşilbelde with a broken front left suspension mounting on his Hyundai i20.
He was almost 8sec quicker than Ogier at the 22km split point, but soon after the top mounting punched through the bonnet. Neuville battled on, but dropped 3min 30sec and the look of disappointment on his face said more than his words.
“Something is broken. We didn’t hit anything. I don’t know, unlucky, really unlucky,” was all the Belgian could muster.
Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul worked on the car at the finish, swapping suspension parts from the rear left to fit to the front. The aim was to drive to the next stage while engineers in the service park analysed the damage before deciding whether they should continue.
Ogier was fastest by a massive 22.5sec in his Ford Fiesta to move into a 25.5sec lead over Andreas Mikkelsen.
“It’s part of the game,” Ogier said of Neuville’s problem. “I think I had a good stage but I was struggling for grip. The road cleaning effect is very big today so it’s good to be at the back of the field.”
Ott Tänak was second fastest in his Toyota Yaris, 0.7sec ahead of Mikkelsen. The Estonian was one of just two drivers to gamble on selecting only one spare wheel for the morning’s three stages. Was it a risk?
“I don't think so. It’s much smoother today, the road has a hard base. We want to perform but it’s still pretty difficult and I don’t have full control yet,” said Tänak.
He closed to within 8.2sec of third-placed team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, who complained that his Yaris would not turn in. The Finn also accidentally switched off his car’s anti-lag system briefly.
Mads Østberg retired his Citroën C3 with turbo problems while Esapekka Lappi spun and stalled his Yaris. Craig Breen dropped 20sec after mishearing a pace note and approaching a second gear corner in fourth, spinning his C3.