PHOTO: Jari-Matti Latvala powers up the Mosel hills (Volkswagen pic)
JARI-Matti Latvala moved within touching distance of his maiden ashphalt victory after extending his lead to almost a minute at ADAC Rally Deutschland on Saturday’s second leg.
The Finn won five of the seven special stages on often wet and muddy roads to stretch his lead to 56.6sec with four speed tests remaining on Sunday’s final leg.
Kris Meeke repelled a fierce challenge from Thierry Neuville for second and holds a 4.3sec advantage in a Citroen DS3.
Latvala admitted that barring problems he could drive cautiously on Sunday to secure his second consecutive win, boosting his world title hopes following the demise of championship leader and team-mate Sébastien Ogier, who crashed for a second time.
“It should be fine. I think we can take it easy tomorrow on stages that are a bit shorter than in previous years. You never want anything bad for your teammate, but I need this victory to happen to open up the championship fight.
“But first I have to finish and keep my head cool,” said the Volkswagen Polo R pilot.
The battle for second was thrilling. Neuville, who restarted in fifth in his Hyundai i20, leapfrogged Andreas Mikkelsen and team-mate Dani Sordo in the first pass through the marathon Panzerplatte military zone test and set about catching Meeke.
He reduced the deficit to 0.4sec when Meeke dropped a handful of seconds with a puncture, but the Northern Irishman battled back to hold the advantage.
Sordo remained in contact until he aquaplaned in sixth gear in standing water and spun onto the grass. He dropped 10sec but retained fourth ahead of Mikkelsen, who lost time after misjudging a hairpin bend. The gap between them is 10.2sec.
Mikko Hirvonen heads Elfyn Evans by 4.9sec after a daylong battle in which the Welshman briefly headed his more experienced Ford Fiesta RS teammate. Mads Østberg has closed to within 1.2sec of Evans in eighth.
Martin Prokop and Robert Kubica complete the leaderboard in Fiesta RS cars. Kubica, first in the start order, won two stages as mud and dirt dragged onto the road slowed those following him into the tests.
Ogier restarted under Rally 2 regulations after retiring on Friday but smashed into a roadside barrier in the second stage after a sixth gear jump. The Frenchman and co-driver Julien Ingrassia were uninjured but the roll cage on their Polo R was too badly damaged to restart. The stage was cancelled.
Bryan Bouffier also retired after crashing his i20 into a huge hinkelstein (kerbstone) in the military area.