Thierry Neuville was able to re-establish a small lead over Ott Tänak, the former taking advantage of a missing rear wing on Tänak’s Ford to recover time lost through a puncture earlier in the day.
Neuville and Tänak were left to fight amongst themselves for victory after Jari-Matti Latvala‘s Toyota suffered an unspecified terminal technical issue in SS16 while running close behind in third.
The same stage saw drama for the leading pair, as Neuville suffered a left-rear puncture and Tänak’s rear wing was sheared off under braking. While Neuville lost 17.4 seconds to the Estonian, he gained it all back and then edged out a 3.1 second gap by the leg-ending superspecial.
“I struggled like hell,” said Neuville at the end of the day’s penultimate stage. “I pushed very hard. Obviously we were quite unlucky today, but that’s part of the game. The rain was not necessary, but we will see tomorrow.”
Neuville’s struggles paled in comparison to Tänak, who was struggling to temper his wayward Fiesta WRC. It was devoid of rear downforce with no wing to press the car down, and he was afraid the Fiesta would end up on its roof.
“It was difficult on the big jumps,” Tänak explained. “I just tried to be very clean and make no mistakes whatsoever. I think that’s the best we were able to do.”
“Sometimes it’s feels like it’s going to roll over on the bonnet, but luckily enough it didn’t.”
Hayden Paddon inherited the final podium spot after Latvala’s retirement, taking advantage of a measured drive throughout the day to get within 25 seconds of Neuville and put over a minute between himself and Sébastien Ogier. Paddon was quick to put any talk of challenging for victory to bed, instead focusing on keeping Ogier behind tomorrow.
“We never expected to be on the podium today, we were too far back,” said Paddon. “We’re sorry for Jari-Matti, but obviously we’ve a difficult day to get through as well, and we’ll just try and look after this position.”
Ogier had suffered a miserable day, with two punctures and a crash in the morning loop followed by recurring engine problems in the afternoon. Having dropped behind Dani Sordo thanks to his earlier issues, he recovered to take fourth, his engine woes abating for long enough to capitalise on a front-left puncture for the Spaniard in SS18.
“There is some kind of thing that’s not stable let’s say; sometimes working, sometimes not,” he explained after surpassing Sordo for fourth. “At the moment it’s more working that not, so I’m happy with that.”
Teemu Suninen held steady in sixth despite stalling at a hairpin in the Kruklanki test, his defence from the charging Stéphane Lefebvre behind aided by the Frenchman’s Citroën C3 suffering from issues with the rear differential.
Mads Østberg has benefited from troubles to rivals, steadily climbing up the leaderboard to hold eighth, his most recent gain a consequence of a puncture for Juho Hänninen in the second pass of Baranowo. This put the sole remaining Toyota out of the points, and allowed Andreas Mikkelsen to rejoin the Top 10, just behind Elfyn Evans. The battle for the final points places remains tight, with the gap form Evans to Hänninen standing at only 14.9 seconds. with Mikkelsen having only 3.4 seconds in hand over the chasing Finn.
|1.||Thierry Neuville||Hyundai Motorsport||2:10:26.3|
|2.||Ott Tänak||M-Sport World Rally Team||+3.1|
|3.||Hayden Paddon||Hyundai Motorsport||+25.5|
|4.||Sébastien Ogier||M-Sport World Rally Team||+1:32.0|
|5.||Dani Sordo||Hyundai Motorsport||+1:43.8|
|6.||Teemu Suninen||M-Sport World Rally Team||+2:06.2|
|7.||Stéphane Lefebvre||Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT||+2:20.3|
|8.||Mads Østberg||M-Sport World Rally Team||+2:45.8|
|9.||Elfyn Evans||M-Sport World Rally Team||+3:23.1|
|10.||Andreas Mikkelsen||Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT||+3:34.6|
WRC2: Veiby and Tidemand still 1-2 despite dual punctures
The Scandinavian duo of Ole Christian Veiby and Pontus Tidemand continued to dominate the WRC2 category, but the gap between the Skoda pair widened as both suffered punctures through the afternoon running of the Gołdap stage.
Veiby was worried his best chance at a first win in the second level category had gone away from him having picked up a rear-right puncture late in SS17, knowing that Tidemand – who has racked up four class wins from four attempts this year – was primed to take advantage.
“I don’t believe it!” he exclaimed at the stage finish. “I didn’t hit anything, I don’t understand how it happened. Hopefully we didn’t lose too much.”
Luck was on Veiby’s side, as instead of losing time to Tidemand, he extended his lead. The Swede had picked up a puncture of his own, which put over a minute between the pair by the stage end.
“It was in a right corner, I think it exploded in the corner,” he commented. “Maybe it was something I hit or something in the line. I think it was about 10 kilometres before the finish.
“That’s life,” Tidemand signed off exasperatedly.
Quentin Gilbert was a distant third, almost four minutes off the pace set by Veiby, but still took time to complain about differential problems hampering his Fabia R5.
One close battle does remain in the primary support category however, with Benito Guerra and Yoann Bonato facing off for fourth place, the difference exactly 2 seconds by the day’s final stage. Guerra is making his debut in the category this season – having entered WRC specification machinery in his home event Rally Mexico in recent years – and is still adjusting to his new equipment.
“It’s very difficult with the [Fabia] R5 but I’m having a lot of fun,” he said. “I think I have a new favourite rally. I love it, it’s really fun and I have a big smile on my face right now.”
He had damaged the front end of his Fabia during SS18, but it made little impact on his pace, gaining fourth from Bonato by the end of the test.
“The roads are completely destroyed,” he commented afterwards. “We didn’t go off at any point. There are big ditches and it’s very easy to break the bumper.”
Wojciech Chuchała was the best local driver in sixth position after compatriot Łukasz Pieniążek plummeted to last, a problem on his Peugeot 208 forcing him to stop for lengthy repairs during SS11.
|1.||Ole Christian Veiby||Printsport||2:20:16.4|
|2.||Pontus Tidemand||Skoda Motorsport II||+1:03.3|
|3.||Quentin Gilbert||Quentin Gilbert||+3:40.8|
|4.||Benito Guerra||Motorsport Italia SRL||+6:15.2|
|5.||Yoann Bonato||Yoann Bonato||+6:17.2|
|6.||Wojciech Chuchała||Sebastian Rozwadowski||+7:38.7|
|7.||Raul Jeets||Tehase Auto||+9:03.2|
|8.||Fabio Andolfi||ACI Team Italia||+20:48.3|
|9.||Gus Greensmith||Gus Greensmith||+22:22.7|
|10.||Pedro Heller||Pablo Olmos||+35:40.0|
JWRC: Solans streaks away
Nil Solans put himself on track for a third consecutive JWRC victory, holding a 41 second lead over Dennis Rådström despite struggling throughout the day with being first on the road.
The Spaniard was unhappy with running directly after the WRC2 cars, which he said compromised his pace throughout the day and cost him a chance to extend his lead past the minute mark.
“Really bad,” he responded when asked how his day had gone. “All the cars we had in front are four wheel drive, and the lines are bigger than our cars. There is a lot of sand in the middle of the road.
“We are cleaning the road a lot for the two wheel drive [cars], so we lost a lot of time in the flat sections, only the straights rather than the corners. We had to push a lot to be leading, because in some splits we are much faster than everyone, but in some splits, some fast sections, we lost maybe 8 seconds in the straights, so it’s unbelievable. We had to push all day.”
“It’s crazy. I would like to start 4th, not 1st!”
Behind the frustrated Solans was Rådström, who conceded he was unable to live with his rival’s pace – describing him as the “Flying Spain Guy” – and seemed happy to settle for second place.
“It’s a dream, I couldn’t imagine this position,” he said. “I thought I wasn’t great but still we had the pace all the time so really happy.”
Terry Folb inherited a secure third position following a crash for Emil Lindholm, losing a potential podium on his JWRC debut. Still behind Folb was fellow Frenchman Nicolas Ciamin, who currently sits second in the championship behind Solans.
“We made almost one or two spins, and we had one puncture, but no big issues so that’s okay,” he said. “The pace is not great, so we are fourth now and just trying to secure this position.”
When asked if he was happy with his current position, he replied “Not really. The win was maybe too optimistic but I would like to have made the podium.”
|1.||Nic Solans||Miquel Ibáñez||2:39:52.6|
|2.||Dennis Rådström||Johan Johansson||+40.1|
|3.||Terry Folb||Christopher Guieu||+1:21.5|
|4.||Nicolas Ciamin||Thibault de la Haye||+2:14.9|
|5.||Julius Tannert||Jürgen Heigl||+4:45.4|
|6.||Dillon van Way||Dai Roberts||+8:57.7|
|7.||Sebastian Carega||Rodrigo Sanjuan||+19:58.8|
|8.||Emil Lindholm||Tomi Tuominen||+28:48.1|