SS2/3: Latvala moves ahead
Jari-Matti Latvala slithered into the lead of Orlen 74th Rally Poland on Friday morning after a rain-soaked start to the first full day.
Stage info: SS2/3
SS2: Chmielewo 1, 6.52km
Friday’s opening test is a mixture of wide and narrow roads but is fast throughout, with several flat-out jumps early on. The middle is technical and narrow, with tight corners up to the village of Grabówka, before fast and wide roads lead to the finish. The surface is sandy, apart from a short asphalt section which links two gravel roads. Identical to 2016.
SS3: Wieliczki 1, 15.05km
Wieliczki is fast and flowing for most of the way, with big cuts for the brave. Only the closing part is narrow and technical and here drivers must remain tidy, or risk going off. The stage crosses a railway line near the finish. Much of it was driven in the opposite direction in 2016, and only the opening kilometres to the village of Markowskie are the same as last year.
He was second fastest through the short Chmielewo speed test before moving into a 2.1sec advantage over Sébastien Ogier after winning the following Wieliczki. The Finn was surprised to find himself in front.
“That’s surprising because I didn’t think I was driving that well. It’s really slippery and the grip changes are big,” said the Toyota Yaris driver.
Road opener Ogier was third in both special stages in his Ford Fiesta and the championship leader echoed Latvala’s thoughts.
“It’s tricky, it’s going to be a long day. There are a lot of grip changes and it’s hard to find where you can push. You can’t be on the limit but at the end I was a bit too cautious,” he said.
Thierry Neuville won Chmielewo to relegate overnight leader Elfyn Evans, and fourth in Wieliczki left the Belgian tied in third with Ott Tänak. The pair were three-tenths of a second behind Ogier.
“Much more grip than I expected in the first part and much less at the end,” Neuville explained at the finish of Wieliczki. “I was far too slow at the start and had difficulty to get back good speed because there were too many surprises at the end and I didn’t want to make any mistakes.”
Neuville clipped a bank in the opener in his Hyundai i20 while Tänak, who was second in Wieliczki in his Fiesta, lost time after missing a junction.
Conditions deteriorated with the passage of every car as the sandy gravel became increasingly muddy. The leading quartet were already more than 10sec clear of Esapekka Lappi in fifth, the Finn having resolved last night’s engine glitch in his Yaris.
Dani Sordo was sixth, despite stalling his i20 at the first junction in Chmielewo, as did Teemu Suninen.
Craig Breen was already almost three minutes off the pace. The Irishman had three-wheel drive only in his Citroën C3 after breaking a rear right driveshaft. He tried to make repairs between stages but his efforts were in vain: “We’ve locked the differential and are just checking our notes before the repeat pass,” he said.
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