Esapekka Lappi held off Sébastien Ogier’s determined charge to take the lead of Rally Turkey following a dramatic Saturday morning in which WRC championship leader Ott Tänak retired.
Stage info: SS9/10
SS9: Datça 1, 8.75km
Datça is Rally Turkey’s signature stage. There are stunning picture postcard views of the Mediterranean in the second half of the test but it also offers so much more. Fast and flowing roads, tight and twisty sections, rough and smooth gravel and an amazing descent towards the sea ensure this is a classic. Last year’s final 2km inland section has been cut out.
SS10: Kizlan 1, 13.30km
New for 2019, Kizlan is the quickest stage of the weekend and uses wind farm service roads. There are several big jumps early on before the wide roads give way to a narrower and technical forest section, which contains a rockier surface. It quickly reverts to wider and smoother roads, with little variation to the finish.
Lappi ended the group of three stages with a 10.0sec lead over his Citroën C3 team-mate, but attention was focused on Tänak’s early exit when his Toyota Yaris ground to a halt on the liaison section before the start of the 8.75km Datça test.
“I came here, started to put the helmets on sitting in the car and nothing happens, we can’t fire it up,” Tänak explained. “Something electrical I guess, everything is in safe mode. Five kilometres before we did the refuel, stopped and started again and it was OK.”
Addressing the impact on his title quest, he said: “It makes everything much easier, there’s no need to control anything, just back to the fight. These things keep happening to us. We just need to stay strong and be over it, but it’s difficult to fight for a championship with so many issues like that.”
The Estonian’s exit came shortly after title rival Thierry Neuville dropped four minutes when he slid off the road, leaving Ogier in a great position to capitalise on his rivals’ misfortunes.
After an inspired tyre choice enabled Ogier to close to within a second of Lappi in the opening test, second quickest time in Datça and victory in the superfast Kizlan allowed the Finn to extend his advantage to 10.0sec.
“It's been a troublefree morning and the pace has been consistent. On the first one I couldn’t match Seb at all, he used the tyres very well. This gives us confidence that we’re in a good way on gravel but it’s still not over,” said Lappi.
Ogier’s gamble to mix hard and medium compound Michelin rubber delivered its rewards. “I think it was bit on the limit with that choice, but it worked out. There’s no reason to take risks but there are still some rough conditions to go through so it’s not over,” he said.
The Citroën pair had almost a minute in hand over Andreas Mikkelsen’s Hyundai i20. The Norwegian was fastest in Datça and never out of the top three times all morning to demote Teemu Suninen by 12.6sec.
Dani Sordo was fifth, the Spaniard determined to keep the Toyota pair of Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke behind him. Sordo had 25.7sec in hand over Latvala, who moved ahead of Meeke when the Ulsterman spun in Kizlan.
A despondent Neuville, Pontus Tidemand and WRC 2 leader Kajetan Kajetanowicz completed the leaderboard.