In a day full of drama it was Belgian Thierry Neuville who took his Hyundai i20 to the top of the timesheets for the first full day of Rally Turkey, winning three of the six stages throughout the day to end the day with a 33.2 second advantage over his rivals.
On his first rally since Rallye Automobile de Monte-Carlo in January, Sébastien Loeb continued to show he has lost no form in lockdown, finishing in second place with the same time as Sébastien Ogier after swapping positions all day. Ogier suffered issues in the afternoon as he suffered a puncture and suspected hydraulic problems. Loeb was classed in second place on a tie-break.
Despite Neuville’s commanding finish to the day it wasn’t smooth running for him through the morning; after initial issues with his car’s balance the Belgian took two afternoon stage wins to take the lead.
“The afternoon was much better than the morning,” said Neuville. “We worked on the set-up and I was happier with the car in the rough sections. But nothing is done. Tomorrow has the roughest stage of the rally and we need to avoid punctures and damage on the car, but we still need to drive fast.”
Ogier was frustrated to drop out of contention for the lead of the rally for part of the day but happy to still be battling it out at the top.
“We had an electronic issue I believe, I don’t know exactly what,” said Ogier. “The consequence was that I was losing the shifting and also I was losing the hydraulic pressure, so only going in front-wheel-drive. It’s a little disappointing but happy to be here tonight.”
Elfyn Evans had a mixed day, heading in to the early afternoon stages the Welshman was holding on to a strong second place before tyre troubles saw him lose almost 40 seconds, ending the day 27.6 seconds behind the two Sébastiens.
Kalle Rovanperä heads into the final day in fifth place, 18 seconds behind Evans after a front right puncture saw him lose time.
Teemu Suninen headed up a trio of M-Sport Ford Fiestas in sixth place ahead of Esapekka Lappi and Gus Greensmith. Pierre-Louis Loubet continues to find his way in the main class, finishing the day in ninth place in the Hyundai i20.
Defending champion Ott Tänak was forced to retire from the rally after initially setting a stunning pace through the opening 31.79km Yeşilbelde test, with just 6km left to go his Hyundai i20 speared off of the road and in to the bushes. Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja quickly emerged from the car to inspect the damage after what appeared to be a steering problem, unfortunately their day was done, dealing a big blow to the Estonian’s title hopes.
In WRC2 Pontus Tidemand leads the trio of entrants by 1:32.2 in his Škoda Fabia ahead of Adrien Fourmaux’s Ford Fiesta and Eyvind Brynildsen’s Škoda.
Triple FIA ERC champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz leads he way in the WRC3 class in his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo ahead of Marco Bulacia Wilkinson and Emilio Fernández.
Sunday sees the longest day on a WRC round for more than four years with two runs through one of the toughest and longest stages on the calendar along with a short test adding up to a total of 88.86km, with the closing Marmaris Wolf Power Stage offering bonus points to the fastest five drivers.