Ott Tanak extended his advantage during Saturday’s morning loop of Rally Germany stages, although Sebastien Ogier continues to push to the limit to remain within striking distance of the Toyota driver. Thierry Neuville has slipped into the clutches of the chasing crews fighting for the podium and in the final stage dropped back behind Jari-Matti Latvala, who now sits in third just one-tenth of a second ahead.
Today’s stage distance, at 150.12 kilometers, makes up nearly 50 percent of the entire competitive route and has taken the contenders into the military camp of Baumholder, where avoiding the massive hinkelstein curbs — which are designed to keep tanks on the road — added to the challenge. Two stages through this area were then followed by two more open countryside stages, the four-stage loop to be repeated this afternoon.
Tanak started the day with 12.3 seconds in hand to Ogier and while neither won a stage this morning, the pair have been trading times with the Frenchman gaining in some stages and then losing in others. They are split by 14.1 seconds at the mid-leg service with Tanak focused on finding more balance this afternoon and Ogier admitting it looks almost impossible to catch the Estonian.
With Neuville falling away from the leading duo, the battle between third and seventh has been intense. The Belgian came under a bit of pressure from the chasing pack last night and has struggled to keep ahead this morning, the differential on the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC not ideal after a gearbox change yesterday. Losing time to his rivals, he finally slipped down to fourth in the final stage, Jari-Matti Latvala taking the third-placed advantage by just one-tenth of a second.
There is no respite for any of the drivers in this tightly-packed fight, though. Dani Sordo is just 1.8 seconds further behind in fifth, the Spaniard up to fourth at one point after setting fastest time in SS9, and Esapekka Lappi is having a much more enjoyable day on cleaner roads and was even quickest through SS10. He is 6.1 seconds behind Sordo and has 11 seconds in hand to seventh placed Craig Breen. After dropping time yesterday when he got caught in an unlucky rainstorm, the Irish driver is now enjoying today’s stages and the battle with Lappi ahead. He was also fastest in the fourth stage.
Andreas Mikkelsen continues to struggle to find a good driving style in the i20 Coupe WRC in these conditions, and not a lot is really working for the Norwegian at the moment. He is over 20 seconds adrift of Breen. Teemu Suninen, in his first outing in a World Rally Car on tarmac, had an overshoot in the first stage but feels he is heading in the right direction as experience increases. He is ninth ahead of Mads Ostberg who is 6.6 seconds further behind with understeer during the morning. Elfyn Evans was unfortunately forced out of the podium battle when he understeered off the road in the final stage of the loop.
The FIA WRC 2 Championship contenders have had their fair share of issues this morning and the category is now being led by Fiesta driver Eric Camilli. The Frenchman climbed into second this morning behind Jan Kopecky but when the Czech driver was forced to stop and change a puncture, Camilli took the lead. FIA European Rally Champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz is 22.9 seconds adrift in second with Fabio Andolfi piling the pressure on in third.
Taisko Lario continues to hold the advantage in the FIA WRC 3 Championship, the Finn nearly three minutes ahead of Enrico Brazolli, the rivals sharing this morning’s stage wins.