Ott Tänak continued to pull away from the chasing pack at Rally Deutschland, but the morning loop was overshadowed by Thierry Neuville‘s retirement in the short Panzerplatte superspecial.
Neuville suffered from the left rear wheel of his Hyundai shearing off midway through the 2.9 kilometre test, the upright breaking on impact with a step between the road and the cut the Belgian used.
“It was a just a slow junction, a left turn with a cut, and we don’t understand what happened,” explained a bemused Nicolas Gilsoul, Neuville’s co-driver. “We just felt a small touch on the rear axle. We probably touched something, we don’t understand right now.
“It looks like something broke on the suspension. I don’t know. We need to analyse first and then we will know more.”
Tänak’s morning was not drama free either, his rear-left tyre delaminating with six kilometres remaining in the fully-fledged 42 kilometre Panzerplatte stage. Despite this, his gap to Andreas Mikkelsen only grew larger, thanks in part to a spin by the Norwegian near the finish of the Freisen test. He stalled after his spun at a junction and dropped ten seconds while recovering.
This mistake allowed championship challenger Sébastien Ogier to edge closer to Mikkelsen, climbing to within 6.9 seconds by the end of the morning loop. While initially taken aback by Neuville’s incident, he picked up the pace in the following stages.
“I was a bit too cautious,” he explained after the short Panzerplatte superspecial. “I think that Thierry being stopped made me drive a bit differently.”
Elfyn Evans moved back into fourth place after Neuville’s retirement, but has come under sustained pressure from the lead Toyota of Juho Hänninen. Evans had become distracted by the passenger door of his Fiesta WRC opening throughout the Panzerplatte test, allowing the Finn to close in.
Hänninen was one of the few drivers to select four soft and two hard tyres for the morning loop of stages, which he used to great effect in winning the full length Panzerplatte test, and close to within eight tenths of Evans ahead.
Craig Breen was one of many drivers complaining about the slippery conditions, and was able to hold sixth position despite a trip into a field late in the Freisen test. His task was made easier by the chasing Jari-Matti Latvala in seventh suffering from a broken handbrake, though the Finn was still able to close to within 17 seconds of Breen despite his issues.
With Dani Sordo‘s retirement on Friday and Neuville’s broken wheel forcing his retirement this morning, Hayden Paddon is now the leading Hyundai in eighth. He dropped a minute and a half from a puncture early in the Panzerplatte stage, nursing the car to the end of the stage before changing to a fresh tyre. This cost the Kiwi any realistic chance of catching Latvala ahead, though he still holds a comfortable lead of roughly a minute and a half over ninth placed Jan Kopecký.
Kopecký continued to hold a narrow lead in the WRC2 category, continuing his quest for a second win of the season in the support class. His case was helped by Škoda Motorsport team-mate Pontus Tidemand suffering a right-rear puncture during Panzerplatte, which caused extensive damage to the door and wheelarch of his Fabia R5. The Swede lost 50 seconds as a consequence, though this only dropped him down to third place.
Tidemand’s woes promoted Eric Camilli to second, who flew through the 42 kilometre Panzerplatte stage to go 13.4 seconds quicker than anyone else. This dominant run helped narrow the gap from Kopecký ahead to 7.9 seconds initially, though strong runs through the remaining pair of stages in the morning loop by Kopecký saw the Czech driver increase his lead to 12.5 seconds by midday service.
It was a messy affair in the main support category, with a number of drivers flying off the road or spinning in the treacherous conditions. As WRC cars ahead cut corners, large quantities of mud were thrown onto the surface of the stages, and many drivers were unable to cope with the extra challenge of slippery mud not included in their pacenotes.
Teemu Suninen, Pierre-Louis Loubet, Marijan Griebel and Łukasz Pieniążek all picked up punctures through the gruelling Panzerplatte test. This shook up the midfield order massively, promoting Gus Greensmith to fourth, despite overshooting two junctions in the first three kilometres of the same stage and describing his driving as “shocking”.
Quentin Gilbert is not far behind Greensmith in fifth, who had a minor off in the Freisen test and lost roughly ten seconds returning to the road. Suninen found himself slotting into seventh place after his puncture, behind Simone Tempestini whose five minute penalty awarded yesterday was appealed by his team, allowing him to continue less than three minutes off the pace for now.
Julius Tannert inherited a surprising Junior WRC class lead of almost twelve minutes after Nicolas Ciamin made a mistake and caused extensive damage to the rear suspension of his Fiesta R2T.
The damage caused Ciamin to arrive late for the refuel and tyre change zone at Birkenfeld, and was also late in arriving at the time control for the beginning of the Freisen stage, racking up five minutes worth of penalties.
The Frenchman lost further time limping through the final 12.2km Römerstraße test, dropping to third. Nil Solans won the three full length stages in the morning loop, allowing the Spaniard to move into second overall, despite having retired and returned under Rally2 after a crash yesterday afternoon.
Terry Folb‘s woeful run of luck continued, crashing into a tree in the tricky Panzerplatte stage and retiring from second place.
WRC Classification After SS12
[table id=2359 /]
WRC2 Classification After SS12
[table id=2360 /]
JWRC Classification After SS12
[table id=2361 /]
* 5m 30s penalty for checking in late to time controls TC10A, TC11 and TC12.
** Excluding further penalties to be applied for missing SS13-SS17 in afternoon loop.