NEUVILLE SLITHERS AND SPLASHES HIS WAY INTO THE LEAD

MIKOLAJKI (Poland): Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul overcame torrential rain, driving winds and appalling stage conditions to hold a slender lead of just 1.3 seconds after 10 special stages of Orlen 74th Rally Poland on Friday evening.

Four drivers won at least one of the day’s nine stages and the lead changed hands on four occasions during a dramatic day when mud, standing water and slippery tracks were the deciding factors. 

Neuville said: “It was so slippery today, We were suffering with our road position. When I started pushing, the car was behaving very well. I kept it always in the clean parts.”

Fresh from claiming a first ever WRC win in Sardinia, Estonia’s Ott Tanak lost the lead on the ninth stage in his M-Sport World Rally Team Ford Fiesta WRC. He and navigator Martin Jarveoja missed out on a stage win, but found a consistent pace throughout the day and Tanak is well-placed to challenge hard on Saturday. He said: “It is still close. There were extreme conditions this afternoon. Definitely it was not the time to go flat out.”

Toyota GAZOO Racing World Rally Team’s Jari-Matti Latvala led from stage three until the start of the eighth stage before slipping to third place. “The morning was good for us. But I could not get the car turning into the ruts in the afternoon. We did not have the right set-up for these conditions.”

Defending World Champion Sébastien Ogier struggled at the front of the field in the appalling conditions and held fourth in the second of the M-Sport Fords. “The whole afternoon, I was on the limit,” said Ogier, who finished the last stage with a cracked windscreen after a stone flicked up behind Neuville’s car. “We have to analyse why (we lost time). I cannot go faster. I was hoping for better, but the conditions in the afternoon did not help me.”

Afternoon set-up changes revitalised the Hyundai challenge and Hayden Paddon also benefited with improved stage times. The Kiwi reached the night halt in fifth, 12.1 seconds in front of Spanish team-mate Dani Sordo and just 4.5 seconds behind Ogier.

Finland’s Teemu Suninen make a mockery of his lack of experience in a World Rally Car and the Fiesta WRC debutant driver also claimed a first outright fastest time to add to his impressive seventh overall. “It has probably happened before, but I can’t remember a driver winning a WRC stage on his first rally,” said a delighted M-Sport team director Malcolm Willson. “I guess it shows he has potential.”

Fellow Finn Juha Hänninen finished the last stage with a slight engine misfire in eighth in the second of the Toyotas and Citroën’s Sébastien Lefebvre and Ford’s Mats Østberg rounded off the top 10.

Elfyn Evans struggled on DMACK tyres that were far from ideal for the slimy conditions and reached Mikolajki in 11th – the fastest time on the last stage being the highlight of a difficult day for the Welshman. A resurgent Andreas Mikkelsen was breathing down his neck in 12th after a morning collision with a tree stump.

The Scandinavian duel for supremacy in WRC 2 swung in Norway’s favour at the end of the day. Ole Christian Veiby saw his advantage whittled down to 5.1 seconds, as Sweden’s Pontus Tidemand moved well clear of third-placed Quentin Gilbert. English youngster Gus Greensmith stopped in the eighth stage after breaking a steering arm in a concrete gulley and local driver Hubert Ptaszek rolled out of contention in SS7.

WRC 3 series leader Nil Solans continued his impressive run of form and headed to the last stage of the day with an advantage of 23.7 seconds over Dennis Radstrom. Emil Lindholm was third.

Friday – as it happened

Heavy overnight rain and ongoing downpours made conditions extremely difficult through the opening 6.52km of Chmielewo. Standing water and mud in braking areas turned the stage into a survival course and Neuville set the quickest time from second on the road. Evans slithered around, lost his overnight lead and dropped 19.2 seconds to the leading Belgian and Breen complained of a broken transmission and ceded around 40 seconds to the leader before stopping on the road section to the next stage to check on a broken drive shaft.

Lappi set the fifth quickest time and echoed the sentiment of many other drivers: “It’s going to be a tough day. All the braking and entries into corners are completely on the mud. The car is like a boat. You don’t think about the speed and just try to survive.”

Veiby edged into a 0.3 second lead over Tidemand after setting the fastest WRC 2 time, but a violent roll destroyed Osian Pryce’s Ford Fiesta R5 and put him out of the rally.

The Wieliczki stage was shortened by 910 metres to 15.05km because of road works, but there was no respite from the appalling surface conditions in ongoing heavy rain. Latvala hit the front with the fastest time, as Breen completed the stage in three-wheel drive and dropped two more minutes.

Latvala extended his lead to 3.7 seconds through Swietajno, but his Finnish team-mate Lappi stopped in the stage with front suspension damage that also threw some debris into the oil system and forced the Finn out of the rest of the weekend’s action. Jari-Matti maintained an outright lead through Stare Juchy, but a fastest time for Neuville – Hyundai’s 50th this season - reduced the Toyota Yaris driver’s advantage to 4.5 seconds heading to the service park in Mikolajki.

Citroën’s miserable morning continued when Mikkelsen drifted wide on a slippery right-hander, clouted a tree stump and damaged the C3’s rear suspension. Veiby, on the other hand, mastered the appalling conditions to take a 7.1-second WRC 2 lead to service, as Tidemand moved into second place when Gus Greensmith lost time unable to hear navigator Craig Parry reading the notes after the Ford’s boot flew open mid-stage.

Rain continued unabated into the restart, but the second run through Chmielewo was cancelled on safety grounds because of the sheer number of spectators lining the route. Crews were diverted to the second pass through Wieliczki.

Ogier was half a minute slower than his morning’s run through the same stage, as standing water in the deep ruts made many sections undriveable. Neuville beat the Frenchman by nine seconds, but Tanak claimed the second fastest time behind a flying Teemu Suninen – who won his first WRC stage - and reduced Latvala’s outright lead to 2.3 seconds. Veiby increased his WRC 2 lead over Tidemand to 11 seconds.

Standing mud continued to give Ogier problems from running first on the road in Swietajno and he ceded 13.5 seconds to Neuville and began to drift in fourth overall. A cautious Latvala also lost time and Tanak gained the outright lead for the first time by just one second.

Neuville was a mere 0.7 seconds further adrift, as drivers running further behind began to benefit from improving surface conditions in a drying wind. Suspension adjustments at service enabled Mikkelsen to set a pair of successive top six times in the struggling C3. Suninen continued to impress on his debut in a World Rally Car with the third quickest time.

Neuville sneaked into the outright lead for the second time on the penultimate stage of the day and headed to the Mikolajki Arena 1.5 seconds in front of Tanak. Latvala struggled in the ruts and slipped to third before the second run through the Mikolajki Arena stage.

Saturday

Tomorrow, teams tackle a further nine special stages with two loops of four longer specials and a third visit to the Mikolajki Arena. Action gets underway with the 15.55km of Baranowo at 08.08hrs, before the first of two runs through the Pozezdre, Goldap and Kruklanki timed tests. The day’s super special should draw in a large crowd adjacent to the service park from 19.30hrs.

 

ORLEN 74th Rally Poland – positions after SS10:

1. Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC - 56min 21.2sec

2. Ott Tanak (EST)/Martin Jarveoja (EST) Ford Fiesta WRC - 56min 22.5sec

3. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN)/Miikka Anttila (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC - 56min 27.8sec

4. Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Ford Fiesta WRC - 56min 56.3sec

5. Hayden Paddon (NZL)/Sebastian Marshall (GBR) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC - 57min 00.8sec

6. Dani Sordo (ESP)/Marc Marti (ESP) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC - 57min 12.9sec

7. Teemu Suninen (FIN)/Mikko Markkula (FIN) Ford Fiesta WRC - 57min 32.2sec           

8. Juha Hänninen (FIN)/Kaj Lindström (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC - 57min 50.1sec

9. Stéphane Lefebvre (FRA)/Gabin Moreau (FRA) Citroën C3 WRC - 57min 58.2sec

10. Mads Østberg (NOR)/Ola Floene (NOR) Ford Fiesta WRC - 58min 03.9sec

11. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Daniel Barritt (GBR) Ford Fiesta WRC - 58min 23.5sec

12. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Anders Jaeger (NOR) Citroën C3 WRC - 59min 09.7sec

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ORLEN 74 Rally Poland

2017 Calendar

20-22 January

Rally Monte Carlo

10-12 February

Rally Sweden

10-12 March

Rally Mexico

7-9 April

Rally France

28-30 April

Rally Argentina

19-21 May

Rally Portugal

9-11 June

Rally Italy

29 June – 2 July

Rally Poland

28-30 July

Rally Finland

19-20 August

Rally Germany

6-8 October

Rally Spain

27-29 October

Rally Great Britain

17-19 November

Rally Australia