Rally Poland has thrown up a game-changing sequence of events in the space of 21 kilometres, as the previously leading trio of Thierry Neuville, Ott Tänak and Jari-Matti Latvala all endured problems which sent the latter driver out of the running entirely.
Latvala was the first car running through the stage, but pulled up just past the 17km mark with a so far unspecified technical failure on his Toyota Yaris. He was still in strong contention for victory this weekend, only 10 seconds off the pace, but has now been forced to retire from the rally, pending a possible return under Rally2 rules tomorrow.
Next through the stage was Tänak, who was pushing hard to regain the lead from Neuville after dropping 1.7 seconds to the Belgian through the second pass of Baranowo. His charge through SS16 was abated by the rear wing detaching from the bodywork, with the securing bolts still in place. His time loss was minimal, but given the high aerodynamic dependency the 2017 specification cars have on the rear wing, the Estonian is in for a scary ride for the rest of the afternoon loop, with nothing to push the rear of the car down over crests and jumps.
This would theoretically have left the door open for an easy path to victory for Neuville, but instead his Hyundai had picked up a puncture only 2km into the stage, the flailing rubber ripping the left-rear quarter-panel from his i20 WRC.
This means the highest place healthy car on the road is Neuville’s team-mate Hayden Paddon, currently 39.3 seconds adrift of Tänak. The Kiwi was the fastest driver of all through SS16, also picking up a fastest time in SS13 in the morning loop, and is in a good position to capitalise on the misfortune of the front-runners for the remainder of Saturday’s stages.