PHOTO: Kris Meeke holds an impressive second place.
JARI-MATTI Latvala leads Rallye Germany after a dramatic conclusion to the opening day when teammate Sebastien Ogier crashed out of first place.
The Volkswagen duo dominated on the asphalt roads of the Mosel region.
Ogier claimed three fastest times to Latvala’s two to hold a 5.5sec advantage heading into the final delayed Moselland stage.
However, championship leader Ogier crashed his Polo R at a tight corner 7.5km into the hilly vineyard test. He emerged from the vines on to a different road below the stage, which he followed to try to regain the correct route.
It did not lead back to the stage but Ogier eventually found a way to the public road and drove to the Trier service park. The car was undamaged and he will restart under Rally 2 regulations on Saturday with a 10-minute retirement penalty.
His demise handed Latvala a 37.0sec advantage over Kris Meeke’s Citroen DS3. Last year’s winner, Dani Sordo, overcame the worst of the conditions to hold third in a Hyundai i20, a further 5.6sec behind.
“We got a message in the car that Ogier had stopped and then saw another message to say he was out,” Latvala said.
“I lost my rhythm a little because I didn’t know whether to drive fast or slow down. Miikka (co-driver Anttila) told me I was in the lead and could back off, but I slowed too much and found it hard to concentrate.”
Meeke dropped a handful of seconds after an opening-stage spin, but was a model of consistency to finish third in every stage.
After a limited programme this season, Sordo started well down the running order. When he drove the stages the roads were slippery as previous competitors cutting corners had dragged mud and dirt onto the ideal line.
However, the Spaniard was always among the leaders and could threaten Meeke on Saturday when the start order is reset to Friday night’s classification in reverse.
Andreas Mikkelsen is 3.0sec behind Sordo in fourth in a Polo R, despite a morning puncture, with Thierry Neuville fifth. Mechanics worked all night to repair Neuville’s i20 after his shakedown roll but he had a scare when his car filled with smoke in the last test.
Mikko Hirvonen is just 1.9sec behind in sixth, despite overshooting his Ford Fiesta RS into a field in the opening stage. Teammate Elfyn Evans and Mads Østberg are next, the Norwegian slipping back from third as he struggled with his Citroen on the dirty roads.
Bryan Bouffier and Martin Prokop complete the leaderboard, but Robert Kubica dropped four minutes after his Fiesta RS went off and had to be lifted back onto the road by spectators.
Drivers on Saturday face two loops of four stages covering 148.30km, including two passes over the daunting Panzerplatte tests in the Baumholder military area.
Ogier said he was lucky to have emerged unscathed form his crash.
“I did a mistake when I braked too late into the corner,” he explained. “It was a kind of blind corner where this morning I was too early on the brakes. On the repeat I wanted to be more accurate, but I was too late.
“It was not a big mistake – just a little too late and a little too wide but the road narrowed and I went off.
“I have to be happy that the consequences were not worse and the car was not damaged. We slid down a very steep slope and luckily the car didn’t roll. If it did, it could have been quite bad. Okay, we lost the race, but nothing more.
“I’m going to check the gap but I think there is almost no chance to get in the top ten, maybe the only points we can catch this weekend are on the Power Stage.”
The retirement was Ogier’s second in two years at the home round of his Volkswagen team. In 2013 he also retired from the lead on the opening day when he slid wide and damaged his front suspension.