NEUVILLE AND TANAK SET UP GRIPPING POLISH FINALE

MIKOLAJKI (Poland): Belgian Thierry Neuville and Estonian Ott Tanak held their nerve in improving stage conditions to set up the prospect of a gripping finale to a pulsating Orlen 74th Rally Poland.

Neuville, partnered by navigator Nicolas Gilsoul in a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, reached the rain-soaked overnight halt in Mikolajki with a lead of just 3.1 seconds after the lead swapped between the rivals on five occasions during the day’s nine gravel stages.

Neuville ceded the lead on SS16 after a puncture, but Tanak’s M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC lost its rear wing on the same stage and Neuville was able to claw his way back into contention, despite getting caught up in heavy rain on the last of the day’s gravel stages.

Neuville said: “I felt I was a bit unlucky. I had a lot of rain on the last five kilometres of the last gravel stage. I pushed very hard, but some of my advantage was lost.”

Toyota GAZOO Racing World Rally Team’s Jari-Matti Latvala had been the third driver in the mix for much of the day, although he had dropped a few seconds behind the leading duo before losing drive to his Yaris WRC after a hard landing in a compression forced him to a standstill on the 16th stage and cost him third place.

One of the performances of the day came from New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon. Smarting following the All Blacks’ defeat to the British and Irish Lions on Saturday morning, the second of the i20 Coupe WRC drivers set three fastest times, overhauled defending World Champion Sébastien Ogier and settled into a comfortable third position.

Ogier battled back from two flat tyres on the first loop of four stages to regain fourth position from Spain’s Dani Sordo, who also sustained a flat tyre two stages from the end.

Finland’s Teemu Suninen continued his impressive debut in a World Rally Car with sixth position and Sébastien Lefebvre was consistently the quickest of the three Citroën C3 WRC drivers in seventh.

Ford’s Mats Østberg and Elfyn Evans were a distant eighth and ninth and Andreas Mikkelsen overhauled a struggling Juha Hänninen to round off the top 10.

WRC 2 swung firmly in Norway’s favour after the second run through Goldap. Ole Christian Veiby reached Mikolajki with a comfortable lead after Swedish rival Pontus Tidemand sustained a time-consuming flat tyre and lost 48 seconds. Quentin Gilbert was a distant third, despite his own rear differential issues.

Nil Solans continued to dominate the WRC 3 category from Dennis Radstrom and Terry Folb.

Saturday – as it happened

Sunny intervals, a breeze and drying stage surfaces greeted crews to the start of Saturday’s nine special stages in the Masurian Lake District. Everyone had hoped for drier conditions after Friday’s deluge and the forecast had improved somewhat, with rain scheduled to pass through the area from 4pm.

Forty-four of the original 47 starters were granted start times. Damage to the oil pump from a crash on Friday had sidelined Esapekka Lappi in the third of the Toyota GAZOO World Rally Team Toyotas and Osian Pryce’s violent crash had wrecked his car on SS2. There was disappointment too for local driver Hubert Ptaszek after his crash on Friday.

Craig Breen was given the unenviable task of running first on the road. Slender overnight leader Neuville slotted into 13th, although the start of the opening Baranowo stage was slightly delayed. The tricky test between the trees bunched the leading group up still further. Latvala’s fastest time enabled the Finn to close to within 3.2 seconds of Tanak, as Neuville extended his overall advantage to 2.6 seconds and Paddon closed to within 1.1 seconds of Ogier’s grip on fourth overall.

Veiby extended his WRC 2 advantage over Tidemand to 8.3 seconds. An incident on the liaison between service and the stage start sidelined Jaroslav Koltun and electrical issues forced Luzasz Pieniazek out of the day’s action.

The subsequent Pozezdrze stage had been shortened by 3.04km to 21.24km because of road works and was delayed slightly while spectators were relocated into the designated fan zones. The leading crews pushed hard beyond their limits. Ogier completed the stage on a broken wheel and ceded fourth place to Paddon. Tanak set his first quickest time to regain the outright lead from Neuville, despite going off the road into a field, as Latvala closed to within 3.7 seconds of the Belgian.

Ogier said: “We were quite unlucky. We had a slow puncture on the first stage and then we had a puncture near the start of this one and the tyre was off the rim near the stage finish and we spun and hit a step. The car is not fine at all now. I miss the front bumper and down force at the front.”

The World Champion’s woes continued into the Goldap stage, near the frontier with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. With reduced down force and an ill-handling Ford, he slipped behind Sordo into sixth place, as Paddon claimed his first quickest time of the weekend and Neuville shaved 0.4 seconds off Tanak’s lead. Tidemand pipped Veiby by 0.6 seconds in WRC 2, but the Norwegian was still in control.

The captivating tussle between Tanak, Neuville and Latvala heated up in the new Kruklanki stage. All three pushed to the limit over the blind crests and slippery corners and Neuville’s bravery was rewarded with the fastest time, as he regained a lead of 1.3 seconds from Tanak. Latvala was second fastest and closed to within 8.2 seconds of the Estonian, while Paddon continued to pull clear of a struggling Ogier.

Rally officials managed to claw back all but 11 minutes of the morning’s delay for the start of the afternoon loop of four stages. Baranowo cleaned up nicely and stage opener Breen managed to shave nine seconds off his morning’s time.

Another fastest time for Neuville enabled the Belgian to increase his lead to three seconds, as Tanak moved 10.3 seconds in front of Latvala and Ogier began to pressurise Sordo in a bid to regain fifth. The Scandinavian shoot-out between Veiby and Tidemand remained in the balance after the latter gained 0.3 seconds and reduced the gap to 13.3 seconds.

As clouds began to darken over the Pozezdrze stage, so did the mood in the Toyota camp with the news that Latvala had stopped with no drive after hitting a compression 12.9km into the special. Neuville also ceded time to Tanak and the Estonian reached the stage finish without the Ford’s rear wing. But his consolation was regaining a massive 14.4-second lead when Neuville punctured a rear-left tyre two kilometres into the stage and struggled to the finish on shredding rubber. Paddon climbed to third with his second fastest time and Ogier overtook Sordo to reclaim fourth.

Tanak began to leak seconds to both Paddon and Neuville without the Fiesta’s rear wing and the Estonian reached the start of the Kruklanki stage with his lead whittled down to 6.1 seconds. Paddon was quickest again by a mere half a second and found himself 24.4 seconds behind his team-mate as the pressure intensified at the top of the leader board.

The WRC 2 contest turned in Veiby’s favour; the Norwegian headed to the penultimate stage of the day 1min 06.3 sec in front of Tidemand after the Swede sustained a time-consuming front left puncture 10km into the stage and dropped 48 seconds. Veiby was more fortunate with his own flat tyre.

It began to rain quite heavily with the leaders in the last of the day’s gravel stages. Sordo punctured, Lefebvre complained of rear differential issues and Neuville set the quickest time to move 2.5 seconds ahead of Tanak, who was quite happy with his stage time set without a rear wing. It set up the prospect of a fascinating final day.

Sunday

Tomorrow, teams tackle two runs through the remaining two special stages. The new 11.15km of the Orzysz special gets proceedings underway at 08.10hrs and the all-important televised Paprotki Power Stage of 18.68km rounds off the action at 12.18hrs. The podium ceremony will then take place in Mikolajki’s main square from 14.30hrs.

 

ORLEN 74th Rally Poland – positions after SS19:

1. Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC - 2hr 10min 26.3sec

2. Ott Tanak (EST)/Martin Jarveoja (EST) Ford Fiesta WRC - 2hr 10min 29.4sec

3. Hayden Paddon (NZL)/Sebastian Marshall (GBR) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC - 2hr 10min 51.8sec

4. Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Ford Fiesta WRC - 2hr 11min 58.3sec

5. Dani Sordo (ESP)/Marc Marti (ESP) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC - 2hr 12min 10.1sec

6. Teemu Suninen (FIN)/Mikko Markkula (FIN) Ford Fiesta WRC - 2hr 12min 32.5sec    

7. Stéphane Lefebvre (FRA)/Gabin Moreau (FRA) Citroën C3 WRC - 2hr 12min 46.6sec

8. Mads Østberg (NOR)/Ola Floene (NOR) Ford Fiesta WRC - 2hr 13min 12.1sec

9. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Daniel Barritt (GBR) Ford Fiesta WRC - 2hr 13min 49.4 sec

10. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Anders Jaeger (NOR) Citroën C3 WRC - 2hr 14min 00.9sec

11. Juha Hänninen (FIN)/Kaj Lindström (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC - 2hr 14min 04.3sec

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ORLEN 74 Rally Poland

2017 Calendar

20-22 January

Rally Monte Carlo

10-12 February

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10-12 March

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7-9 April

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28-30 April

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9-11 June

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29 June – 2 July

Rally Poland

28-30 July

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19-20 August

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6-8 October

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Rally Australia