Jari-Matti Latvala skated his way through the morning stages of Rally Poland to lead heading into midday service, as weather continued to weight heavy on the minds of the drivers.
Latvala won SS3 and SS4 to hold a 4.5 second lead over Thierry Neuville, who cut the Finn’s lead by 1.9 seconds in the loop-ending SS5. The lead Toyota driver did not expect to be so quick through the first loop of stages, struggling to keep on top of the variable conditions.
“That’s surprising because I didn’t think I was driving that well,” he explained at the end of SS3. “It’s really slippery and the grip changes are big.”
Neuville’s suggestion yesterday that 2nd would be the best road position turned out to be somewhat accurate, leapfrogging the M-Sport pair of Ott Tänak and Sébastien Ogier in the morning’s final stage before service having initially fallen behind.
With the constant stop-start of rain, the stages will not being given a chance to recover between each loop, prompting championship leader Ogier to suggest the conditions will only get worse as the day wears on.
“In Poland it’s always quick even if it’s wet,” he said after SS5. “I think it’s been a difficult morning for everyone but I guess the 2nd loop will be even harder.”
Esapekka Lappi had recovered from an engine problem overnight to run strongly in fifth place in the early stages, but his day ended at the 17km mark of SS4. Cutting a corner aggressively, he broke the suspension on his Yaris WRC, forcing him to retire from fifth place and prepare for a return on Saturday under Rally2 rules.
Moving up to fifth and sixth thanks to Lappi’s retirement were the Hyundai duo of Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo, the former leapfrogging the latter in SS5 thanks to a spin for the Spaniard in the slippery conditions.
The conditions worsening on stages as each car passes through had a multiplication effect on the gaps, with the Finnish pair of Juho Hänninen and Teemu Suninen over a minute off the lead already in seventh and eight place.
Citroën suffered a miserable morning, firstly with substitute team-leader Andreas Mikkelsen breaking his left-rear suspension. He had been pushing hard in the morning’s last stage – having been slower than the third C3 of Stéphane Lefebvre in the previous stages – and lost almost two minutes after sliding into a tree stump. This left him limping to the finish and dropped him out of the points.
The second C3 WRC of Craig Breen was left to rue yet another rally gone away from him, his car dropping down to two wheel drive in the morning’s opening test. He had been forced to lock the differential into front wheel drive mode due to a rear right driveshaft failure in SS2, losing seven and a half minutes through the morning’s four stages.
Osian Pryce was an early retirement in the WRC2 category, sliding his Fiesta R5 into a tree on the outside of a fast right-hander in SS2. He walked away unscathed, but the car was wedged under the tree and far too damaged to continue.
|1.||Jari-Matti Latvala||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC||29:25.8|
|2.||Thierry Neuville||Hyundai Motorsport||+4.5|
|3.||Ott Tänak||M-Sport World Rally Team||+5.0|
|4.||Sébastien Ogier||M-Sport World Rally Team||+7.3|
|5.||Hayden Paddon||Hyundai Motorsport||+43.6|
|6.||Dani Sordo||Hyundai Motorsport||+45.7|
|7.||Juho Hänninen||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC||+1:01.1|
|8.||Teemu Suninen||M-Sport World Rally Team||+1:11.6|
|9.||Elfyn Evans||M-Sport World Rally Team||+1:17.5|
|10.||Stéphane Lefebvre||Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT||+1:18.1|