OTT Tänak is on course for a third straight ADAC Rallye Deutschland victory after leading a Toyota Gazoo Racing clean sweep of the top three places on Saturday.
PHOTO: Jari-Matti Latvala races his Toyota Yaris through the Panzerplatte military-test stage on the way to third place on Saturday’s leg of Rally Germany (Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool)
Tänak, bidding to extend his FIA World Rally Championship lead, ended the longest leg of the four-day asphalt event with a 32.4sec. advantage in his Yaris over Kris Meeke.
Jari-Matti Latvala overcame a ragged morning to hold third, a further 9.4sec. behind after a stellar day for the Japanese manufacturer.
Tänak’s delight contrasted with title rival Thierry Neuville’s despair. For a second day the pair duelled at the head of the leaderboard, never split by more than a handful of seconds through the morning’s four country-lane tests in Saarland.
Despite briefly stalling his engine, Neuville reached mid-leg service only 5.0sec down after winning two special stages.
The daunting, multi-surfaced Baumholder tank training roads met the prediction that they would be a pivotal point of the rally. Neuville punctured early in the marathon 41.17km Panzerplatte test and dropped nearly 90sec stopping to replace it.
“We had a puncture on the rear left. It’s a lottery and we were really unlucky. We were in the middle of the road so I don’t know where that came from,” Neuville said.
With the pressure removed, Tänak eased though the second pass of Baumholder, the first occasion on which he had been able to relax.
“This morning Thierry was faster than me and I didn’t want to take risks. Unfortunately he hit problems and we have a comfortable lead. Baumholder is so, so tricky so I think you need to have some luck if you’re pushing and come out without punctures,” Tänak said.
Meeke and Latvala could not find a way past Sébastien Ogier, who continued to struggle with an understeering Citroën C3 in third, until the first pass through Panzerplatte. Both overhauled the Frenchman and Meeke widened the gap over his teammate in the final test.
Dani Sordo recovered from a gearbox problem on Friday night to hold fourth in his i20. He was almost 25sec. clear of Neuville, who lost more time in the final stage when he spun and inadvertently deactivated the gear-change system after hitting an in-car button.
Neuville still managed to overtake team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen, who ended 2.1sec. behind in sixth despite twice sliding off the road.
Ogier’s day went from bad to worse when he stopped to change a puncture in the final stage, losing 90sec. and sinking to eighth.
Sunday’s final leg reverts to the Mosel vineyards. Two runs through Grafshaft (28.06km) and Dhrontal (11.69km) total 79.50km, the second pass through Dhrontal forming the crucial bonus-point finale as the Wolf Power Stage.
Outright standings after Saturday:
1 O Tänak/M Järveoja (Toyota Yaris) 2:27:21.9
2 K Meeke/S Marshall (Toyota Yaris) +32.4
3 J-M Latvala/M Anttila (Toyota Yaris) +41.8
4 D Sordo/C del Barrio (Hyundai i20) +1:10.8
5 T Neuville/N Gilsoul (Hyundai i20) +1:35.2
6 A Mikkelsen/A Jaeger-Amland (Hyundai i20) +1:37.3
7 E Lappi/J Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +1:43.1
8 S Ogier/J.Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +2:09.7
9 G Greensmith/E Edmonson (Ford Fiesta) + 6:02.6
10 T Katsuta/D Barritt (Toyota Yaris) +6:57.4