OTT Tänak fended off a determined challenge from FIA World Rally Championship rival Thierry Neuville to hold a narrow lead at ADAC Rallye Deutschland on Friday night.
PHOTO: Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20 plunges downhill as the Belgian pursues Ott Tänak on Friday’s stages of Rally Germany (Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool)
Championship leader Tänak, chasing a fifth victory of the season in his Toyota Yaris, won four of the six competition stages to head Neuville by 2.8sec after a thrilling duel.
In temperatures nearing 30°C, the pair distanced their opponents on bumpy and narrow vineyard roads above the Mosel river and country lanes in Saarland. Defending world champion Sébastien Ogier was third in a Citroën C3, 22.1sec off the lead.
Tänak led after Thursday night’s curtain-raising test but was relegated by Neuville in Friday morning’s opener. He moved back in front on the next stage and although his Belgian rival narrowed the deficit when the stages were repeated, Tänak retained a narrow advantage.
“There is nothing comfortable when the fight is like it is,” the Estonian said.
“Thierry is doing very well but rallying is never a walk in the park and there is still a big battle.
“It’s exactly what we expected – fast stages and small gaps. Tomorrow is a very difficult day and the long military road stage will be so important.”
Neuville won the opening test of the loop on both occasions in his Hyundai i20 and there was little Ogier could do to stay in touch as he wrestled with an understeering Citroën C3. He lost more valuable seconds after stalling his engine and later sliding into a field.
Kris Meeke and Dani Sordo were closely matched in a battle for fourth. Meeke held the initiative all day in his Yaris, until Sordo edged ahead in the penultimate test, only for his i20’s gearbox to jam in first gear in the final stage. He lost almost a minute to plunge to ninth.
Jari-Matti Latvala capitalised to climb to fifth in his Yaris, despite also sliding into a field in the final test and struggling to perfect his braking. He was 2.2sec adrift of Meeke and 12.2sec clear of Andreas Mikkelsen in sixth.
Mikkelsen, driving the third factory Hyundai, struggled with understeer into corners but moved ahead of a disappointed Esapekka Lappi when the Finn spun his C3.
Gus Greensmith was eighth in a Ford Fiesta with WRC 2 Pro leader Kalle Rovanperä completing the leaderboard behind Sordo.
Teemu Suninen was the only major retirement, stopping early in the opening special stage with an electrical failure in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta.
Saturday features a double loop of two country -ane tests in Saarland before action shifts to the intimidating multi-surfaced Panzerplatte military roads.
Four abrasive stages there, packed with awkward junctions and lined by car-breaking kerbstones, raise the day’s total to 157.92km.
Outright standings after Friday:
1 O. Tänak/M. Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 59:12.4
2 T. Neuville/N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2.8
3 S. Ogier/J. Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC +22.1
4 K. Meeke/S. Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +25.6
5 J-M Latvala/M. Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +27.8
6 A. Mikkelsen/A. Jæger-Amland (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +40.0
7 E. Lappi/J. Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +52.9
8 G. Greensmith/E. Edmondson (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:05.5
9 D. Sordo/C. del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1:15.1
10 K. Rovanperä/J. Halttunen (Skoda Fabia R5 Evo) +2:58.5