Ott Tänak has recaptured the lead of Rally Deustchland from Citroën rival Andreas Mikkelsen through Friday’s afternoon loop of stages, taking advantage of the variable weather conditions and his tyre selection.
The rain forecast for this morning belatedly appeared during midday service, soaking the stages to an extent that the new Michelin full wet compound tyres were utilised by many competitors.
Tänak selected four full wets and two soft compound tyres, and used the conservative selection to great effect. The Estonian won the two longer stages during the loop to move past Mikkelsen for the lead, who had also gone for a set of full wets.
He suffered a scare midway through the afternoon re-run of Mittelmosel, running wide at the exit of a hairpin and dipping his Fiesta into the now muddy vineyards lining the stage.
Despite dropping somewhere in the region of “five to ten seconds” according to Tänak, he took 3.2 seconds out of the Citroën driver, who suffered his own trip into a field during the same test thanks to the extremely slippery and muddy conditions.
Despite conceding the rally lead during the afternoon, Mikkelsen was still elated by his performance through the first full day of stages.
“Really, really happy,” he said at the end of the day’s final test. “We are pushing to the maximum. The conditions are getting worse, so the only drivers we can compare to are the ones around us [in the start order]. We are 10 seconds quicker than Kris [Meeke] so that shows how hard we are pushing.”
Behind the leading pair it was all change, as Sébastien Ogier suffered a spin in the leg-ending superspecial. This cost the four-time world champion around 20 seconds, crucially dropping behind title rival Thierry Neuville.
The pair had opted to run with a full set of soft slick tyres, and the treacherous conditions also caught out Neuville, having a small moment of his own in the same stage in which Ogier had spun.
Elfyn Evans dropped to fifth, taking a cautious approach in the lone DMACK-shod Fiesta. He complained at the end of the Grafschaft stage about his inability to slow down in time for corners.
The day’s final stage saw a change of position for sixth overall. Juho Hänninen capitalised on a spin into a field by Craig Breen to send the Irishman down to seventh position, the quarrelling pair half a minute ahead of the recovering Jari-Matti Latvala in eighth.
The Toyota driver had suffered an engine misfire with his Yaris WRC just before midday service, but won the day’s final stage where many slid off the road or spun.
The last Toyota of Esapekka Lappi suffered an unfortunate end to his day, running wide and spearing into a wall in the second passing of Grafschaft. The Finn was caught out by the muddy conditions on the inside of a right-hand cut, running out of grip and breaking the front-left suspension of his Yaris. He crawled further down the stage, but was forced to pull up and retire.
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