Andreas Mikkelsen stormed into the lead of Rally Deutschland with a commanding performance through the Grafschaft stage, establishing a 4.1 second lead over Ott Tänak.
Dani Sordo initially grabbed first place away from unexpected overnight leader Jan Kopecký by going fastest through SS2, but fell back in SS3 before flying off the road only 800 metres into Grafschaft, causing extensive damage to his Hyundai i20 and forcing the Spaniard to retire.
Tänak moved into the lead with the fastest time through Mittelmosel, but was quickly dispatched by Mikkelsen through the following test, gaining 9 seconds on the Estonian to climb into first overall.
Rain had been forecast for the morning loop of stages, but with showers failing to materialise until SS4, it left many drivers on the less than ideal softest compound on dry roads. This led to several mistakes in the early morning tests.
Third placed Sébastien Ogier was one of the drivers caught out, spinning into a field during the opening Wadern-Weiskirchen test. M-Sport team-mate Elfyn Evans made it three Fords in the Top 4, putting in a mistake free run.
Championship leader Thierry Neuville currently sits in fifth place, having taken a brief detour through the iconic vineyards lining the morning’s stages and damaging the front splitter of his Hyundai.
“A kilometre after the start there was a dry section which became humid under braking,” explained Neuville to wrc.com. “I went off nto the vineyard and lost the front splitter. I have no downforce so I’m struggling under braking.”
The Toyota pair of Esapekka Lappi and Juho Hänninen are sixth and seventh, the latter running wide and hitting a post, causing damage to his front splitter and rear wing. Craig Breen is the last car within a minute of Mikkelsen in eighth place overall.
Jari-Matti Latvala clipped a wooden pole early on, damaging the front right wing of his Toyota Yaris. He had been fighting Evans over fourth position following Sordo’s retirement, but lost over a minute through the re-run of Wadern-Weiskirchen due to a misfiring engine, dropping to tenth.
Between Sordo’s retirement and Latvala’s troubles, Hayden Paddon was able to re-enter the Top 10, the Kiwi having suffered a puncture through the Grafschaft stage. He dropped nearly a minute limping to the end of the stage before changing tyres, but has now moved into ninth position thanks to troubles ahead.
Having tumbled down the overall order as expected, Jan Kopecký still leads the WRC2 class with a 5.9 second advantage over Skoda team-mate Pontus Tidemand. The Swede can secure the class title this weekend with a top four finish – so long as Teemu Suninen does not win – but is still going toe-to-toe with his veteran Czech team-mate for class honours this weekend.
Suninen and Yoann Bonato are in the lead fight, 22.6 and 23.3 seconds behind Kopecký respectively. Bonato took two stage wins in the morning loop, but capitulated to the rapidly improving Suninen. Having started the day down in eighth after a disappointing run through Thursday’s rally-opening superspecial, the Finn has now climbed to third place in the category.
Nil Solans and Nicolas Ciamin were involved in a tight battle for the Junior WRC lead. Ciamin, who won the previous round of the JWRC championship in Finland, won the morning’s opening two tests but overshot a junction through Grafschaft, which allowed Solans to resume the lead. This lead was swiftly wiped away by the recovering Ciamin, gaining over a second per kilometre over Solans in the morning loop’s final stage to hold a 10.9 second advantage by the end of the section.
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