Ott Tanak has finished a wet opening day of Rallye Deutschland out front after four different drivers headed the leaderboard throughout the leg.
Storms turned the narrow and bumpy Mosel vineyard tracks and Saarland country lanes into a mudbath. All the leading drivers spent time off the road as they fought for grip in treacherous conditions. The Ford of Tanak holding a 5.7sec advantage over Andreas Mikkelsen aboard a Citroen.
The Estonian won three of the seven special stages covering 108.51km, but was fortunate to survive the day.
“It’s been a tricky day – the second loop especially was really extreme – and the conditions were really unpredictable,” said Tanak.
“Once we were really lucky. On a hairpin I totally lost sight of the road and dropped down the bank. It was nothing special – no wrong speed or anything like that – but it just proves that sometimes you have to have a little bit of luck as well.
“This afternoon, everyone said that I was really brave to take this tyre choice [three full wet tyres] but in the end I was confident in myself and in my decision and it turned out to be the right call. The tyres worked really well and we are here in first place at the end of the day.
Ironically, the morning was drier than expected and tyre choice proved difficult. The afternoon rain meant Michelin’s full wet ‘monsoon’ tyres were pressed into use for the first time since being introduced 12 months ago.
Mikkelsen made the most of them to hold second taking a surprise lead earlier. His low start position meant he faced dirtier roads as those ahead dragged mud and stones onto the surface when they cut corners.
The enthralling fight for the championship between Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier took myriad twists and turns. Neuville slid off the road and damaged his Hyundai i20’s aero package this morning and again in the final stage.
Ogier was unhappy with his Fiesta’s set-up. He spun in the opener but held the upper hand over the recovering Belgian until the final test when he pirouetted again. He lost 20sec, allowing Neuville to overnight in third with a 2.4sec advantage.
Elfyn Evans overcame understeer to hold fifth in another Fiesta, with Juho Hanninen sixth, despite sliding his Toyota Yaris into the Mosel grapes this morning.
Craig Breen twice spun his C3 into a field. He was seventh ahead of a recovering Jari-Matti Latvala, who dropped almost 90sec with a misfiring Yaris. Hayden Paddon was ninth after a puncture with opening stage leader Kopecky completing the leaderboard at the point of WRC2.
“We knew this rally was always going to be challenging, but today’s been more than a challenge especially with the rain and the mud this afternoon,” said Paddon.
“We struggled with a puncture unfortunately that we’re not sure how we picked up as we didn’t hit anything or cut any corners that could have caused it, so this was a bit of a mystery and unfortunately cost us a minute.
“Then in the afternoon, we simply didn’t have the confidence in rain and mud. It’s very, very difficult to judge the grip. I simply don’t enough experience in these conditions to be able to push, especially knowing that in our position, we obviously can’t afford to make any mistakes or put it off the road.”
Dani Sordo led briefly before missing a corner under braking and his i20 plunged 40 metres into bushes and trees. The other major retirement was Rally Finland winner Esapekka Lappi, who crashed his Yaris into a ditch when sixth.
Saturday accounts for almost half the rally’s distance and features the infamous mixed surface Panzerplatte tank training roads and narrow country lanes. Four morning stages are repeated in the afternoon, adding up to 146.67km of action.
VIDEO: Morning Stages
VIDEO: Afternoon Stages
Positions : Rallye Deutschland – Leg 1
|1||O. Tanak||Ford Fiesta WRC||1:07:23.0|
|2||A. Mikkelsen||Citroen C3 WRC||+0:05.7|
|3||T. Neuville||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+0:28.2|
|4||S. Ogier||Ford Fiesta WRC||+0:30.6|
|5||E. Evans||Ford Fiesta WRC||+0:52.1|
|6||J. Hanninen||Toyota Yaris WRC||+1:14.7|
|7||C. Breen||Citroen C3 WRC||+1:24.5|
|8||J.M. Latvala||Toyota Yaris WRC||+1:54.7|
|9||H. Paddon||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+2:29.5|