Sébastien Ogier produced a stunning drive through Saturday morning’s opening speed test at Rally Turkey to close to within a second of leader and team-mate Esapekka Lappi.
Stage info: SS8
SS8: Yeşilbelde 1, 33.00km
It’s a tough start to Saturday with another long and demanding test. It runs alongside the coast for long sections in the second half, 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. The opening 1.44km are new.
The Frenchman was the only driver to gamble on a mixed package of two hard and two medium compound tyres for his Citroën C3. His bet paid dividends as he stormed through the demanding 33.00km Yeşilbelde a remarkable 16.7sec quicker than second fastest Lappi.
“I was surprised that not many drivers tried it (medium tyres). I tried to save them all the way through the stage and so far it looks good,” said Ogier, who ended just 1.0sec off the lead.
His delight was in contrast to Thierry Neuville’s despair. The Belgian started 0.7sec behind the world champion and was right on Ogier’s pace at the intermediate split times. However, a mistake after 17km cost more than 4min 30sec and he plunged to ninth.
“There was a very slow right and left in the dust and I couldn’t see the corner,” said the Hyundai i20 pilot. “There was a stone that put me out of the road so I had to try to come back.”
Lappi was relaxed about his team-mate’s performance. “I am fine with that, no drama. The bonnet was coming open, I think it was shaking so much that the pin jumped out so it was lifting quite a bit. Seb had a crazy time. I’m not so good at managing tyre wear so I can’t use mediums,” he said.
Teemu Suninen climbed to third in his Ford Fiesta after Neuville’s problem but the Finn was under severe pressure from Andreas Mikkelsen. The Norwegian was third fastest in the stage, despite missing a corner and stalling his i20’s engine, to close to within 3.9sec.
Championship leader Ott Tänak started third in the running order after yesterday’s troubles and was hampered by the loose gravel in his bid to climb the leaderboard.
“From this position we have no chance. It’s loose and slippery and tricky, so not a great feeling,” said the Toyota Yaris driver who now holds seventh overall.