Thierry Neuville in action during a stage of the German Rally on Saturday.
Thierry Neuville won the last two morning stages in the Rally of Germany on Saturday but Ott Tanak retained his lead. Tanak, who heads the championship standings, had increased his edge by taking the second stage of the morning.
Neuville hit back to take the next two in the countryside around Trier, not far from the Luxembourg border. Neuville finished 0.2 seconds ahead of the Estonian in the 10th stage.
In the final stage of the morning, Tanak and his Toyota only finished fifth, conceding 1.5 seconds to the Belgian Hyundai driver. Tanak goes into the afternoon’s stages still 5.0sec ahead of Neuville.
“I had a good rhythm and feeling with the car,” said Neuville. “The afternoon is going to be a different story.”
The race changes surface with four stages across the formidable ‘Panzerplatte’, the tank training roads on the Baumholder military base.
“Now the big stages are waiting,” said Tanak. “That should be more interesting.”
Frenchman Sebastien Ogier is a distant third in his Citroen, 30.3s off the lead, but only 3.7s ahead of Briton Kris Meeke in a Toyota. But the tank roads can bring big time swings.
“I think the biggest difference will happen in Baumholder so let’s see,” said Ogier.
Meanwhile, Neuville lost a handful of seconds earlier when he stalled his Hyundai i20 in a corner but bounced back to win the second pass through both the Freisen and Romerstrabe tests. He reduced his deficit to 5.0sec ahead of this afternoon’s daunting Panzerplatte military road stages.
On roads dirtier than the initial pass as stones had been dragged onto the asphalt, the Belgian was 0.2sec faster than Tanak in Freisen and 1.5sec up in the next. “The gap is still small and the rally is still long, so everything is fine. When the car stalled we couldn’t get it restarted but luckily Nicolas looked at the centre console and noticed the fuse. He pushed it back in and we managed to carry on,” said the Hyundai i20 pilot.
Tanak was unfazed by Neuville’s momentum. “I pushed as much as I can and had a clean run. The main thing was to maintain the gap. This afternoon will be a very different story and very new characteristics - now the big stages are waiting,” said the Toyota Yaris man.
Sebastien Ogier continued to hold off Kris Meeke in third but lost more time to those in front. The Frenchman trailed Neuville by 25.3sec but had 3.7sec in hand over Ulsterman Meeke, who continued to focus on manufacturer points for his Toyota Gazoo Racing squad.
Fifth was Jari-Matti Latvala in another Yaris, finally feeling more comfortable in his car after a ragged morning. The Finn was almost half a minute clear of Andreas Mikkelsen, who lost time after sliding his i20 into a Römerstraße ditch.
Dani Sordo posted top four times in both stages as he regained ground after last night’s gearbox problem. The Spaniard was up to seventh in his i20, overhauling Esapekka Lappi, who spun his Citroen C3 and lost 15sec in Freisen after locking his front tyres. Takamoto Katsuta and Gus Greensmith completed the leaderboard after WRC 2 frontrunners Stéphane Lefebvre and Nicoilas Ciamin retired in consecutive stages.
After service in Bostalsee, drives face the first of two afternoon loops on Baumholder’s tough tank training roads, which are expected to be littered with stones and rocks. Most expect these to be the rally’s defining sections.
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