OTT Tänak extended his ADAC Rallye Deutschland lead on Saturday as WRC leader Thierry Neuville’s title hopes suffered a crushing blow.
Tänak headed Andreas Mikkelsen by 21.4sec following the penultimate leg of the four-day asphalt encounter, after tough speed tests on Panzerplatte’s multi-surface tank training roads and greasy country lanes.
But the day was a disaster for Thierry Neuville, who retired his Hyundai i20 with broken rear suspension after the opening military-road special stage.
His demise handed a crucial advantage to Sébastien Ogier, with whom he is tied at the top of the championship standings. Ogier is third, hot on the heels of Mikkelsen and in line for big points.
“It was probably a bad impact on the wheel rim,” said Neuville. “I knew the corner very well and there is a small step out of the cut. I have to accept it, look forwards and keep the motivation for the next rounds, because the title is still on.”
Most drivers chose soft compound tyres in the morning morning expecting damp roads. They were drier than forecast and an over-cautious approach from Mikkelsen allowed Tänak to pull clear in his Ford Fiesta.
An error-strewn stage from Mikkelsen when he first spun and then stalled his Citroën C3’s engine within 200 metres, gave Estonian Tänak more daylight, which he managed his advantage during the afternoon.
“It was a clean day with no mistakes and other guys have made mistakes,” Tänak said.
“We have quite a good margin and at the moment it looks OK. Tomorrow we should keep going as we have been so far. It has been comfortable and I don’t see any reason to worry.”
Mikkelsen’s errors allowed Ogier to close. With Neuville sidelined for the day, the Frenchman was reluctant to commit all in pursuit of second place. He is 8.2sec behind the Norwegian Mikkelsen in his Fiesta.
Juho Hänninen made a perfect tyre choice in the morning to overhaul fourth-placed Elfyn Evans in his Toyota Yaris. However, a broken damper slowed the Finn and the Welshman regained the place by 4.2sec.
Craig Breen slithered his C3 into a field on three occasions but the Irishman was sixth.
Sunday is the shortest of the rally with two identical loops of two stages covering 51.94km. The final St Wendeler Land test forms the live TV Power Stage, with bonus points for the fastest five drivers.
Leading positions after Saturday:
1 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) 2h31m32.2s
2 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Citroen C3 WRC) +21.4s
3 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +29.6s
4 Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m48.3s
5 Juho Hänninen/Kaj Lindström (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1m52.5s
6 Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC): +2m06.7s
7 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4m04.9s
8 Hayden Paddon/Seb Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +4m31.3s
9 Eric Camilli/Benjamin Veillas (Ford Fiesta R5) +8m41.9s
10 Armin Kremer/Pirmin Winklhofer (Ford Fiesta WRC) +8m54.5s
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