MIKOLAJKI (Poland): The Belgian duo of Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul maintained their composure under the fiercest of pressure to emerge comfortable winners of an enthralling Orlen 74th Rally Poland on Sunday.

The lead of one of the most unpredictable ever rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship changed on 10 occasions during the 23 special stages, but the Hyundai Motorsport driver won nine of them to reach the finish 1min 23.8sec clear of New Zealand team-mate Hayden Paddon and his British co-driver Seb Marshall. It set up a best ever 1-2-4 finish for the Korean manufacturer, with Dani Sordo in fourth place and a first podium finish for co-driver Marshall in the WRC.

Neuville started the day just 3.1 seconds in front of M-Sport World Rally Team’s Ott Tanak. The Estonian produced a scintillating time through the treacherous opening stage to regain the outright lead for the fourth time this weekend, but the Ford Fiesta WRC driver was caught out on a slippery section under the trees in the second stage of the morning and spun the car into a banking. The impact sucked the nose into a tree and Tanak was fortunate to be able to finish the stage. With the Fiesta leaking vital engine fluids, it would go no further and the winner of the recent event in Sardinia was out of the running.

Neuville, who claimed his fifth ever WRC win and third this year, said: “I am really happy. Two events in a row we are closing the gap on Ogier. The last five races, every last metre of every stage has been tough. The end of the championship is going to be really interesting.”

Ironically Tanak’s demise helped defending World Champion and team-mate Sébastien Ogier on to the podium in third position. Ogier and Julien Ingrassia failed to win a single stage and a couple of punctures on Saturday cost them time. But the Frenchman retained a trimmed championship lead from a resurgent Neuville to take to the next rally in Finland.

“I was just happy to finish,” said Ogier. “It is not the best podium. We were missing a little performance and we were unlucky with the punctures. I guess the podium is better than we deserved. The season is going to be exciting.”

Finland’s Teemu Suninen revelled in his opportunity to drive a World Rally Car for the first time and the Ford Fiesta driver reached the finish in Mikolajki in sixth position after slipping behind a delighted Frenchman Sébastien Lefebvre -driving the first of the three Citroën C3 WRCs – after a delay on the final Power Stage.

Ford’s Mats Østberg and Elfyn Evans reached the finish in seventh and eighth overall and Andreas Mikkelsen won a late Power Stage tussle with Juha Hänninen to finish ninth for Citroën by just 10.2 seconds.

Toyota GAZOO Racing World Rally Team’s Jari-Matti Latvala held a top three position for long periods in his Toyota Yaris before missing out on a podium on Saturday afternoon. The Finn claimed five crucial bonus points for winning the Power Stage and won three other special stages during the weekend.

Ole Christian Veiby began the final day with a comfortable WRC 2 lead and the Norwegian took no risks on the closing stages. Swedish rival and series leader Pontus Tidemand was duly able to reduce the gap to just 32.9 seconds at the finish, but Veiby held on to claim the victory. Quentin Gilbert was third, as Frenchman Eric Camilli was not registered for WRC 2 points.

Sunday – as it happened

Jaroslaw Koltun joined Esapekka Lappi, Osian Pryce and Hubert Ptaszek on the official list of retirements, as 43 of the original 47 starters were granted start times for the final four special stages.

After heavy overnight rain, dark clouds shrouded the service park in Mikolajki, but the heavy precipitation had abated and the forecast was for lighter rain, low-lying cloud and damp conditions for the morning, with the potential for heavier rain around noon. Stage-opening duties were again given to Craig Breen. Overnight leader Neuville started in 12th.

It was appallingly slippery through the Orzysz stage. Both Breen and Hänninen admitted it was even worse than the conditions they had faced during Friday’s deluge. Mikkelsen was cautious after an early stage ‘moment’, Evans suggested that the early sections were completely undriveable but a flying Suninen set a scintillating target time of 6min 25.9sec in his Ford Fiesta.

No-one envisaged the supreme pace Tanak showed in the special. The Estonian kept a clean line, carded a stunning time of 6min 10.3sec and beat Neuville by 4.9 seconds to regain a lead of 1.8 seconds. It was reminiscent of the legendary performance by the late Colin  McRae in Corsica many years ago.

The first run through the 18.68km of the Paprotki stage was next on the agenda. A Mikkelsen overshoot under braking pushed him back to 11th behind Hänninen, who closed to within 5.6 seconds of Evans in ninth. But Tanak’s brave challenge for victory ended when he clouted a bank heavily, spun the Ford, hit a tree, dropped 1min 26sec and slipped behind Paddon.

Neuville set the fastest time and headed to the remaining two stages 1min 03.3sec in front of Paddon, as Ogier inherited third. “It was a braking in the forest and we hit the bank with the rear and then a tree very hard under braking,” said a distraught Tanak, after his stricken car had been pushed through the stop control and into retirement.

Co-driver Martin Jarveoja added: “What can I say? Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. The corner was very slippery. We hit the bank. I thought we were okay. But it sucked the nose in and into a tree.”

Conditions had improved for the penultimate stage. Neuville was again fastest and headed for the final Power Stage with a massive lead of 1min 13sec, as the tussle heated up between Hänninen and Mikkelsen for ninth overall.

Both Ogier and Latvala put more importance on the maximum five points from the Power Stage than Neuville on this occasion. Mikkelsen laid down the gauntlet with a time of 9min 02.8sec, only for Latvala to set the quickest time of 8min 57.5sec. Mikkelsen held off Hänninen to secure ninth, but an overshoot cost Suninen fifth place to Lefebvre on a pulsating end to a gripping rally.


ORLEN 74th Rally Poland – positions after SS23:

1. Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC - 2hr 40min 46.1sec

2. Hayden Paddon (NZL)/Sebastian Marshall (GBR) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC - 2hr 42min 10.0sec

3. Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Ford Fiesta WRC - 2hr 43min 06.9sec

4. Dani Sordo (ESP)/Marc Marti (ESP) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC - 2hr 43min 33.5sec

5. Stéphane Lefebvre (FRA)/Gabin Moreau (FRA) Citroën C3 WRC - 2hr 43min 57.9sec

6. Teemu Suninen (FIN)/Mikko Markkula (FIN) Ford Fiesta WRC - 2hr 44min 02.9sec    

7. Mads Østberg (NOR)/Ola Floene (NOR) Ford Fiesta WRC - 2hr 44min 25.7sec

8. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Daniel Barritt (GBR) Ford Fiesta WRC - 2hr 45min 25.2sec

9. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Anders Jaeger (NOR) Citroën C3 WRC - 2hr 45min 29.6sec

10. Juha Hänninen (FIN)/Kaj Lindström (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC - 2hr 45min 39.8sec

Rally leaders

SS1 Elfyn Evans

SS2 Thierry Neuville

SS3-7 Jari-Matti Latvala

SS8 Ott Tanak

SS9-11 Thierry Neuville

SS12-13 Ott Tanak

SS14-15 Thierry Neuville

SS16-17 Ott Tanak

SS18-19 Thierry Neuville

SS20 Ott Tanak

SS21-23 Thierry Neuville

Stage winners

SS1 Elfyn Evans

SS2 Thierry Neuville

SS3 Jari-Matti Latvala

SS4 Jari-Matti Latvala

SS5 Thierry Neuville

SS6 cancelled

SS7 Teemu Suninen

SS8 Thierry Neuville

SS9 Thierry Neuville

SS10 Elfyn Evans

SS11 Jari-Matti Latvala

SS12 Ott Tanak

SS13 Hayden Paddon

SS14 Thierry Neuville

SS15 Thierry Neuville

SS16 Hayden Paddon

SS17 Hayden Paddon

SS18 Thierry Neuville

SS19 Elfyn Evans

SS20 Ott Tanak

SS21 Thierry Neuville

SS22 Thierry Neuville

SS23 Jari-Matti Latvala














PZM 75. Rajd Polski / PZM 75th Rally Poland

PZM 75th Rally Poland

2018 Calendar

22-24 March

Azores Airlines Rallye (Portugal)

3-5 May

Rally Islas Canarias (Spain)

1-3 June

Acropolis Rally (Greece)

15-17 June

Cyprus Rally (Cyprus)

0-22 July

Rally di Roma Capitale (Italy)

24-26 August

Barum Czech Rally Zlín (Czech Republic)

21-23 September

Rally Poland

12-14 October

Rally Liepaja (Lativa)