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(25/8/2013)  SPAIN’S Dani Sordo is the new leader of ADAC Rallye Deutschland after a dramatic third day eliminated earlier leader Jari-Matti Latvala and slowed Thierry Neuville.

The potential outcome of the WRC ninth round sets an exciting scenario for Coates Hire Rally Australia on 12-15 September.

The top three drivers in the championship standings, Sebastien Ogier, Neuville and Latavala, all have suffered setbacks in Germany. Ogier saw a mathematical chance of winning the title on his Volkswagen team’s home event disappear with his Friday retirement.

The day saw a timely turnaround in form and fortune for Sordo. He has started 106 WRC rallies but is yet to win one and his form in Finland recently led to him being replaced by Northern Irishman Kris Meeke in the Citroen team’s Australian squad.

Sordo edged into the lead past M-Sport Ford driver Neuville with the fastest time on the final Saturday test, Peterberg, and now holds a slim 0.8sec advantage at the top of the standings in his Citroen DS3 with one day left to run.

Having avoided the carnage on the previous test and mastered the damp and slippery conditions in Peterberg, Sordo was in high spirits at the finish control.

“That was great, really nice,” he said. “The stage was a bit dirty, with lots of gravel, but no problems. I’m very happy.”

Neuville was 1.9sec slower than Sordo, his car hampered by an exhaust pipe that had been squeezed half-closed by an incident on the previous stage.

“The handling is okay but the exhaust is quite bent so we lost a bit of power,” he explained. “I think it is okay, and actually we are lucky to be here at all because many cars hit trouble in that stage.”

Mikko Hirvonen put in another cautious performance and set the sixth fastest time to remain third, a distant 1m26s behind Neuville.

“It’s muddy and slippery in many places, so I took it carefully while watching what’s happening in front,” said the Finn.

Former F1 driver Robert Kubica was fifth fastest in his DS3 RRC – beating the times of World Rally Car drivers Hirvonen, Martin Prokop and Khalid Al Qassimi. The Pole, who leads the WRC 2 category, is fifth overall, 1m26s behind Martin Prokop.

The leaderboard was turned upside down when both leader Latvala and second-placed Neuville went off the road at a rain-soaked left bend shortly before the middle of the 12th and penultimate stage of the day.

A brake disc was ripped from Latvala’s Volkswagen Polo R and although he tried to limp to the end, the Finn retired 5km before the finish. Bizarrely, Latvala was reported to have started the stage with co-driver Miikka Anttila’s door flapping open.

Neuville was luckier. The impact dented the rear left of his Ford Fiesta RS and the Belgian completed the rest of the test with a log jammed underneath the rear of the car.

“You couldn’t see the corner, it was so slippery,” he said. “Latvala touched and we touched the same. I saw his brake disc in the corner. I tried to slow down but it was too late and we weren’t pushing. It was second gear, that was all. I couldn’t avoid it. It was like ice and many drivers will have problems there.

“Now my exhaust is blocked, and there is no power.” His Qatar World Rally Team later confirmed that although the exhaust was damaged, it would not prevent him from continuing.

The drama continued as Mads Ostberg went off the road in a wooded section 9.6km into the stage. He crashed at a left bend and with the car stuck in a ditch he had to retire.

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.