Thierry Neuville took victory in Rally Poland by over a minute, taking advantage of a rally-ending crash for Ott Tänak with only three stages to go.
The pair had spent the entire event exchanging the lead, both drivers having hit drama the previous day with a puncture for Neuville and missing rear wing for Tänak. This left Neuville with a slim 3.1 second lead to defend going into Sunday’s quartet of stages.
Tänak made his move for victory in Sunday’s opening stage, setting a blistering pace through Orzysz to gain 4.9 seconds on the Belgian and immediately vault himself into the lead. However, this concerted effort to push ahead backfired spectacularly on the following test, clipping a tree which pitched his Fiesta into a spin, going nose first into an earth bank and destroying the front end of his car.
“You need to push hard if you want to win,” he commented poignantly after crawling to the end of the stage. With his intercooler pipe damaged beyond repair in the impact, he went no further than the stage-end checkpoint, and was left with no option but to retire.
This left Neuville with over a minute in hand to his Hyundai team-mate Hayden Paddon in second, ensuring the Korean manufacturer would secure its first 1-2 finish since Rally Germany in 2014.
Sébastien Ogier demonstrated why he can never be counted out by taking the final podium place, taking advantage of his team-mate’s retirement earlier in the morning in his recovery from two punctures, a spin and a collision with a signpost the previous day. It wasn’t all plain sailing on his way to the end, taking an unscheduled jaunt through a field in the penultimate stage, and was at a loss to understand how he’d ended up there.
“We went into a field, very strangely,” he said. “In a fast corner the car completely snapped at the rear and kicked me off the road.”
Despite his late excurision, he held on to finish ahead of Dani Sordo and prevented a total podium lockout of the Hyundai i20s. Any hopes the Spaniard held of catching Ogier were ended by a puncture, hitting a rock in the rutted penultimate stage.
Drama befell WRC debutant Teemu Suninen on the very last stage, oversteering his way into a tree in the rally-closing powerstage. This caused him to drop behind the impressive Stéphane Lefebvre, the lead Citroën driver taking fifth place right at the death from the Finn. Lefebvre had suffered his own minor drama earlier in the day, skimming along a fence which led to a wooden post becoming lodged under the bonnet of his C3 WRC, but thankfully the damage was only cosmetic.
Behind Mads Østberg and Elfyn Evans in seventh and eight was a late skirmish between Juho Hänninen and Andreas Mikkelsen. The latter gave away his advantage in the first pass of the Paprotki stage, overshooting a junction and dropping 20 seconds to Hänninen, allowing the Toyota driver ahead.
The Norwegian had not given up however, and a blinding time through his second run of Paprotki saw him regain the place right at the end, going 14.2 seconds faster than the disappointed Hänninen through the powerstage.
Jari-Matti Latvala returned to the day’s stages under Rally2 rules following his retirement yesterday, going fastest through the powerstage and collecting five bonus points, helped by having no points on the table in the overall standings to worry about. Ogier was able to mitigate his point loss to Neuville slightly thanks to going second fastest in the final stage, only four tenths ahead of the hard charging Mikkelsen.
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