OTT Tänak is on course for a second consecutive WRC victory after world champion Sébastien Ogier’s mistake handed him a comfortable lead at ADAC Rallye Deutschland.
Tänak starts Sunday’s final leg with a 43.7sec advantage in his Toyota Yaris, while Ogier was left to wonder on the significance the mistake would have on his quest for a sixth consecutive world title.
The pair traded seconds in the morning’s four speed tests over Baumholder’s dusty tank training roads and Saarland’s country lanes, Tänak eking out his lead by 1.8sec to 14.3sec.
Ogier trimmed half a second off his deficit before hitting a rock in the second pass through the marathon Panzerplatte military road test. He stopped to replace his Ford Fiesta’s damaged front wheel, conceding more than 1min 40sec to the Estonian.
In contrast to Friday’s dominance, Tänak failed to win any of the eight speed tests, covering 150km, but was in a strong position to add to last month’s victory in Finland.
“It was a mega fight today with Seb. We were pushing really hard and I wasn’t feeling too comfortable in the first loop. It was a very tough morning,” he said.
“I knew it would be completely different to yesterday, there was a lot that was new to me that I had to adjust to and we had too much understeer.”
Ogier plunged to ninth and his 21-point deficit to championship leader Thierry Neuville appeared to be a widening chasm with the Belgian lying fourth. He recovered to seventh over the final two tests.
“I pushed as much as I can. Now it’s full risk because I have nothing to lose any more. It’s disappointing and at this moment you just want to cry. We put in a lot of effort this weekend but don’t have the benefit of it,” Ogier said.
Dani Sordo and Jari-Matti Latvala were split by 0.8sec in a fierce fight for second. Sordo won three of the military road stages in his Hyundai i20, while Yaris pilot Latvala had the edge on the country lanes. He won two tests.
Neuville struggled for pace in his i20. His team reinstalled the differential and gearbox that was replaced yesterday after an oil leak, but Neuville never found a comfortable rhythm as the championship battle played on his mind. He ended 8.0sec behind Latvala.
Esapekka Lappi was fifth in another Yaris, 6.3sec further back. Andreas Mikkelsen was sixth after frustrations with the handling of his i20, half a second clear of Ogier. Teemu Suninen, Mads Østberg and Craig Breen completed the leaderboard.
Breen was sixth until he crashed in the final stage and damaged his Citroën C3’s rear left suspension. Elfyn Evans was Saturday’s main casualty, retiring his Ford Fiesta after sliding into a field.
Just three stages comprise Sunday’s finale, but they total 72.18km. Two identical tests in the Mosel vineyards are followed by the Bosenberg Power Stage, which offers bonus points to the fastest five drivers.
Outright standings after Saturday:
1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2h23m27.1s
2 Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +43.7s
3 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +44.5s
4 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +52.5s
5 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +58.8s
6 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m50.7s
7 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m51.2s
8 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m57.0s
9 Mads Ostberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroen C3 WRC) +2m20.4s
10 Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +2m34.4s