PHOTO: Ott Tänak put in the best drive of his career to hold third place on Saturday (M-Sport pic).
TEAMMATES Sébastien Ogier and Andreas Mikkelsen will go head-to-head in a final day showdown to decide the outcome of 72nd Lotos Rally Poland on Sunday.
Ogier ended Saturday’s penultimate leg with a 5.6sec lead over Volkswagen Motorsport colleague Mikkelsen with just two speed tests and almost 30km remaining in which to decide this seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Despite cleaning the sandy gravel tracks in his position as road opener, series leader Ogier extended his 2.1sec overnight advantage to 7.2sec over the morning’s four special stages.
Tyre choice again proved decisive in the afternoon’s high temperatures, which reached 32˚C.
Mikkelsen’s choice of hard-compound Michelins proved more suited to the conditions than Ogier’s mix of hard and soft and he reduced the deficit.
“I’ve been cleaning the roads since the start so to lead is fantastic, but we have to finish the fight tomorrow,” Ogier said.
“I wasn’t so sure about my tyre choice this afternoon because they were moving a lot. It wasn’t a perfect choice.”
Mikkelsen could have been even closer to his Polo R rival had it not been for hanging dust in the penultimate stage.
“There was so much dust I couldn’t see in places. I pushed to the maximum but lost time in the dust. On hard tyres, I think that was my chance,” he said.
He needed every available kilometre to rein in Ogier, but the cancellation of a stage in the afternoon for safety reasons further dented his chances.
The fight for third was just as intense. Jari-Matti Latvala held a 5.9sec advantage on Friday night but, despite an opening stage spin, Ott Tänak won two morning stages to head the Finn by a tenth of a second at the mid-leg service.
A rejuvenated Latvala briefly regained position but the Estonian in the best performance of his WRC career added a third win to end the leg with a 1.5sec lead in his Ford Fiesta RS.
Hayden Paddon retained fifth and achieved his target of building a 20sec cushion over Hyundai i20 teammate Thierry Neuville, while local hero Robert Kubica survived two overshoots in his Fiesta RS to hold seventh ahead of a closing Kris Meeke.
Citroën’s Mads Østberg overhauled Spain’s Dani Sordo for ninth.
The only retirement was Elfyn Evans, whose Fiesta RS stopped with a broken water pump, while Dutchman Kevin Abbring lost three minutes after beaching his i20 in soft sand.
Sunday’s final leg comprises two passes over the 14.60km Baranowo stage, the second of which forms the live TV Power Stage, with bonus points to the fastest three drivers.