Andreas Mikkelsen has taken the early lead of the all-new Rally Turkey, although the Norwegian is under pressure from Craig Breen and Mads Ostberg for top honors after Friday morning’s long loop of three stages. Mikkelsen has 6.3 seconds in hand at the head of the leaderboard with Ostberg just 1.9 seconds further adrift of second-placed Breen.
The 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship got underway last night in the packed Marmaris streets around the marina and Mikkelsen set the pace on the short cobblestone super special stage. Today, however, the crews headed onto the gravel roads northeast of the town for two identical loops of three stages totaling 144.84 competitive kilometers. Here, Craig Breen became the pace-setter and the Irish driver won the day’s opener and the longest stage of the event at 38.1 kilometers. Third fastest through hanging dust, Mikkelsen dropped to second and held the position through the following test, saving tires for the final stage of the loop. It paid off and with the quickest time he moved back into the lead.
Breen has also had a great start to the event; second quickest last night and then his fastest time in SS2 moved him into the lead for two stages. Like all the drivers, he is finding it difficult to judge the right speed over the new, rough and rock-strewn stages and is doubly conscious of getting through the first day of a rally without problems, such has been his Friday curse on recent events. He lost the lead in the last stage, a heavy impact giving concern about a puncture but Breen headed back to the mid-leg service happy with his morning.
Behind the leading trio, championship leader Thierry Neuville — first on the road — holds fourth, the Belgian 13.1 seconds adrift of leading teammate Mikkelsen. In the first stage he benefited when all his rivals had to contend with hanging dust and then he went on to win the second to move up from sixth position. He is comfortable with the i20 Coupe WRC in these conditions and heads the third Hyundai of Hayden Paddon. The Kiwi, 11th on the road, has been surprised by a lack of cleaning effect but heads a close group with Jari-Matti Latvala 2.8 seconds adrift in sixth and reigning FIA World Rally champion Sebastien Ogier in seventh, just four-tenths further behind.
Latvala struggled in the dust in the first stage and was then too cautious in the second. He was then amazed to drop more than 10 seconds in the final stage after what he thought was a good run. He narrowly heads Ogier, who has not had the best conditions near the front of the field. Toyota teammates Esapekka Lappi and Ott Tanak are evenly matched in eighth and ninth and split by eight-tenths of a second. Lappi remains cautious of damaging the car on the rocky stages and the Estonian is struggling for grip in the rougher section. Fiesta WRC driver Teemu Suninen rounds out the top 10, the Finn finding it difficult to get into a rhythm on the rough roads. His teammate Elfyn Evans dropped time with a fluid leak and while the Welshman was able to get through the final stage, he dropped nearly two minutes.
The FIA WRC 2 Championship has already turned into a Skoda battle and Jan Kopecky heads teammate Pontus Tidemand by five seconds. Both are the main title contenders, Kopecky’s advantage coming from two of the three stage wins compared to one by the Swede today. The FIA Junior WRC and WRC 3 contenders will be finding the going tough in their two-wheel drive machinery. Julius Tannert currently heads the field on the final and Championship-deciding Junior round, the German 6.2 seconds ahead of Dennis Radstrom.