Andreas Mikkelsen regained the Rally Turkey lead on Saturday morning after remarkable drama which sidelined WRC leader Thierry Neuville and left title rival Sébastien Ogier battling to stay in contention.
Stage info: SS9/10
SS9: Datça 1, 10.70km
Datça could become 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 mean this has the makings of a classic.
SS10: Içmeler 1, 20.37km
Three asphalt sections interrupt the gravel in Içmeler, which is one of the rally’s faster stages. There is a lot of gravel on the surface which will clean to expose the bedrock beneath and provide a tough test for tyres in the second pass. It is quick most of the way until the final kilometres which are twisty and uphill.
Neuville was first to hit problems. The front left suspension mounting on the Belgian’s Hyundai i20 broke in the opening Yeşilbelde speed test and punched a hole in the bonnet.
Having been 8sec faster than Ogier at the previous time check, he limped to the finish 3min 30sec slower. Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul swapped rear and front suspension parts by the roadside in an attempt to continue, but the damage was too big and they retired.
Ogier stormed to fastest time in his Ford Fiesta to open a 25.5sec lead over Mikkelsen. Incredibly he hit problems of his own in the following Datça test, struggling to the finish with a broken track control arm.
The Frenchman and co-driver Julien Ingrassia attempted to replace the unit but the repair became complicated and time-consuming.
Team-mate Elfyn Evans stopped to relay advice from team engineers in the service park by telephone while Skoda Fabia driver Henning Solberg also stopped to pass on verbal help.
With the work eventually completed, Ogier arrived at the start of the following Içmeler stage six minutes late and collected a 60sec penalty. The repair held and he stormed to fastest time, 6.4sec clear of Mikkelsen. He dropped to fourth overall, 46.1sec off the lead.
“I thought I would never make it. We tried to put the TCA back but the suspension wishbone was too tight in the sub-frame and I couldn’t fit it in. I fought like hell and was very close to giving up because I had no energy,” said Ogier.
“It happened in the middle of the road, over a crest. I didn’t see what was there, it looks like a hole in the road. I thought I would have to do the stage with only rear-wheel drive. To make the repair we had to damage the transmission. Not every bolt was tight and I was very surprised it worked.”
Mikkelsen won Datça in his i20 and returned to service with a 36.3sec lead over Ott Tänak, who had a scare of his own after damaging the steering column in the previous stage. He nevertheless moved ahead of team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala by 2.1sec.
Behind Ogier, Hayden Paddon was fifth despite stalling in Datça, while Craig Breen completed the top six having missed a hairpin in the same stage. Teemu Suninen, Solberg, WRC 2 leader Chris Ingram and Jan Kopecký filled the rest of the leaderboard.
Esapekka Lappi joined the retirement list after clipping a bank, his Yaris coming to rest teetering on the edge of a steep embankment. The Finn and co-driver Janne Ferm clambered out but minutes later the car plunged down the slope.
SS8: Disaster for Neuville
Broken suspension shatters Belgian’s hopes
Friday in Turkey: Neuville edges Ogier for shock lead
Enthralling opening to Turkey’s WRC return
WRC 2 in Turkey: Kopecký takes early lead
Dramatic day for title challengers