The Rally Turkey leaderboard has been turned upside down Friday afternoon and Thierry Neuville now heads one of the closest battles this season. The Belgian is just three-tenths of a second ahead of Sebastien Ogier, who is in turn 2.3 seconds ahead of third-placed Andreas Mikkelsen.
This afternoon the crews returned to the same three stages and the drama and leaderboard changes struck immediately. Neuville, who went into the loop in fourth, inched ahead of third-placed Jari-Matti Latvala, but it was Ogier who was the star of the first stage, the Frenchman fastest and crucially 7.3 seconds faster than Neuville. He immediately catapulted himself from seventh to second and into the thick of the fight for victory.
The Belgian instantly fought back and was fastest in the next stage to move into second behind leader Mikkelsen. Neuville then inched into the lead of the rally in the final stage of the day; despite a small mistake he also benefited when his Norwegian teammate spun and struggled on worn tires.
Ogier was overall happy with his day, his only grievance being the dust in the day’s opener and, now, just three-tenths of a second separate the main Championship contenders. Mikkelsen had a rear puncture in the middle stage and then with small issues in the last one dropped from first to third, albeit just 2.6 seconds off the lead.
Latvala was easily in the mix earlier but the gap to the leaders increased in the second of the afternoon’s stages, the Finn gaining and losing time depending on the roughness of the roads. With a problem-free day, however, the Finn is still only 16.3 seconds off the lead and has a 15.6 second advantage over teammate Ott Tanak. The Estonian admitted it was just not his rally; he had a stall in the opener and is having to change the ride height of the car depending on the conditions. He is fifth overnight but has climbed from a mid-leg ninth overall, fastest time in the final stage helping, as others fell by the wayside.
Haydon Paddon believes it is the roughest event he has ever contested and is determined not to take risks and break the car. The Kiwi sandwiches the Toyotas of Tanak and Esapekka Lappi, who is seventh overnight. The Finn is at a loss to do more but has too benefited as those around him have hit problems. Craig Breen was one of those; the Irish driver’s Friday curse struck again this afternoon and he finished the first of the repeated stage with the tire off the rim. He then had a puncture in the penultimate stage, as well as three destroyed tires in the final one, and is 50 seconds off the lead, having led early this morning.
Teemu Suninen, ninth, confessed both the car and his body were taking serious hits this afternoon but the Finn has learned a lot and applauded the strength of the Fiesta WRC. Both Elfyn Evans and Mads Ostberg had punctures in the opener and were forced out in the following stage, both with damaged suspension.
The battle in the FIA WRC 2 Championship took a surprising turn this afternoon. Jan Kopecky, leading going into the loop, picked up two punctures in the first stage and was overtaken by teammate and series rival Pontus Tidemand. The Swede then also had to stop to change a wheel in the same stage and the duo each dropped a position down the leaderboard, now with Tidemand ahead in second. He then got another puncture in the following stage, swapping positions with Kopecky again, the pair then behind category leader Chris Ingram. However, in the final stage Tidemand stopped on the stage for unconfirmed reasons, leaving Kopecky with a 16.3 second advantage over Ingram.
The FIA Junior WRC Championship reaches its thrilling climax in Turkey and with nine drivers mathematically capable of winning this year’s title, the action is intense. Julius Tannert currently holds the advantage in his is Fiesta R2, the German having led all day.