Ott Tanak became the fourth different Rally Turkey leader after a day of carnage that saw main championship contenders Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier dramatically retire from the event within hours of one another. No fewer than five crews were forced out on Saturday and, should Tanak win on Sunday afternoon, the Estonian will have put himself firmly in contention for a shot at the title with a hat-trick of wins.
Toyota teammate Jari-Matti Latvala is just 13.1 seconds adrift in second and unlikely to challenge for victory, such are the high stakes for Tanak. Hayden Paddon has moved into the final podium position, albeit over a minute adrift of the lead.
The second full day of competition took the crews out to the west of Marmaris for two identical loops of three stages, packing in 130 kilometers of competition. Conditions were actually less rough today, making the rate of attrition surprising.
Neuville started the day at the head of the leaderboard but in the first long stage one of the front dampers punched its way through the hood, forcing the Belgian to limp through the stage, losing him over three minutes in the process. The crew worked tirelessly to make temporary repairs on the road section but it never appeared realistic to be able to get through the following two stages with no left-front suspension.
Adding to his gut-wrenching retirement, Ogier set the fastest time in the stage to take the lead but, just one stage later, the five-time FIA World Rally Champion broke a suspension arm. While he dropped less than 20 seconds in the stage and maintained a much-reduced lead, work on the road section to replace the broken suspension saw him arrive late to the start of the following stage, incurring him a one-minute penalty which dropped him to fourth. Remarkably, he was then fastest in the next stage to arrive at the mid-leg service 46.1 seconds off the lead. However, in the first stage of the afternoon, the Frenchman went off the road, handing the lead to Tanak in the process. Both Neuville and Ogier look set to rejoin under Rally 2 regulations tomorrow, the fight for critical Power Stage points their sole focus.
Tanak admitted to not being the fastest driver on the rally, but pre-event all the crews predicted it would be an event driven with the head not the foot. The Estonian started the day fifth and, with the carnage around him, quietly drove to second position by the mid-leg service, despite a steering column issue. This afternoon he had a concern with a rear damper but took the lead from Andreas Mikkelsen in the first of the repeated stages when the Norwegian had a front differential problem that saw him spin, stall and have to continue on with rear-wheel drive only. He dropped to fourth over a minute adrift of the lead, picked up road penalties for lateness to the next stage and overnights fifth, now six and a half minutes behind.
Latvala has moved from fourth last night to second; he had a problem with the engine stalling in hairpins, a puncture and hydraulic pressure issue. However, he overcame all of it to set fastest time in the penultimate stage of the day to overnight one-two for Toyota. Hayden Paddon has tried to drive cleanly all event and it has rewarded the Kiwi with third position, now the lead Hyundai driver. Teemu Suninen is fourth for M-Sport, the young Finn always wanting more from himself but admitting he would be happy with the result at the end of the rally.
Behind fifth-placed Mikkelsen, popular privateer and WRC returnee Henning Solberg is sixth in a Skoda Fabia R5, such has been the rate of attrition today. He heads Elfyn Evans, who was forced to undertake his own mid-day service, such was the amount of work being done on Ogier’s car.
Jan Kopecky is eighth overall and also heads the FIA WRC 2 Championship. He has recovered from yesterday’s time loss with punctures and now heads ninth-placed Simone Tempestini by 44.5 seconds in the category. Should the Czech Škoda driver take the win, it will be a remarkable fifth win from five events. The FIA Junior WRC Championship is now being led by Emil Bergkvist after Germany’s Julius Tannert rolled out of the lead.
It was just not just Neuville and Ogier who hit problems today. Mads Ostberg was forced out in the first stage with a turbo problem and Esapekka Lappi went off the road in SS10. The car was undamaged but immovable and bizarrely, after 20 minutes of being beached on the edge of the road, it then slipped forward down the hill on its own, damaging the front end and making it possible he will not restart tomorrow.
Craig Breen suffered more disappointment today when smoke started pouring into the car. Despite stopping several times to check there was no fire, he reached the end of the stage only for the car to burst into flames, totally destroying it. Both Craig and co-driver Scott Martin were not injured.
Just 35 competitive kilometers remain on Sunday but, with the conditions the way they have been on one of the toughest events in years, anything could still happen.