Neuville heads three-way fight in Poland

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Thierry Neuville has inched into the lead of Rally Poland this afternoon after a thrilling battle that saw the lead change no fewer than three times in three consecutive stages. The Belgian holds a narrow 1.3 second advantage over Ott Tänak after nearly 120 kilometres of treacherous competition in the first full day of the eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Jari-Matti Latvala is third for Toyota just 5.3 second adrift of the Estonian after a tricky afternoon.

After persistent rain throughout the morning, conditions remained difficult this afternoon despite some respite from the downfall. While those at the front of the field benefitted more during the first loop of stages, rutted roads filled with rainwater proved more difficult during the repeated stages and those just a couple of cars back fared better.

The first repeated stage was cancelled for safety reasons, but after this Latvala headed back out in the lead and maintained his advantage after SS7. However, the Finn was a bit cautious in the following stage and both Tänak and Neuville were able to close the gap, Tanak taking the overall lead by a mere second with Neuville setting the fastest time and coming to within seven-tenths of a second of the demoted Latvala. Another fastest time for Neuville then saw him overhaul both his rivals to top the leaderboard going into the second run around the Mikolajki super special stage.  

Sébastien Ogier has been on the limit the whole afternoon but opening the road meant the World Champion was the first to power through all the mud and standing water and he lost time to his rivals as a consequence. While he was embroiled in a four-way battle this morning, he has dropped back and is now over 30 seconds adrift of the leading trio.

Hayden Paddon has run well this afternoon and after driving to survive the morning had a better afternoon after set-up changes aided his charge. He is fifth ahead of team-mate Dani Sordo, the Spaniard also finding conditions a little more stable during the second loop. Teemu Suninen, in his first outing in a 2017 specification World Rally Car, is having a great run and the young Finn was fastest in SS7 on only his sixth stage in the car. His is seventh in the Fiesta and ahead of Toyota’s factory driver Juho Hänninen. The Finn knew he’d have problems with the ruts and ride height of the Yaris, but mud-caked dampers meant he was unable to do anything about it before the start of SS8.

Stéphane Lefebvre remains the leading C3 WRC runner for the French marque. He has had a trouble-free day but is being hunted down by Mads Østberg, the Norwegian just a handful of seconds adrift in 10th overall. Andreas Mikkelsen, replacing Kris Meeke in Poland, had a better afternoon after the team repaired his broken suspension and made set-up changes. More at-one with the car he was able to set more competitive times, but then took a cautious approach in the penultimate stage having picked up a puncture before the start.

He is 12th with team-mate Craig Breen 26th. After the Irishman broke a drive-shaft this morning leaving him with no option but to limp through the stages, the afternoon has been little better and Breen described it as one of the worst days of his career. Esapekka Lappi, who was forced out with broken suspension, is the lead retirement of the day and the Finn will not be restarting on Saturday.

Ole Christian Veiby is having a confident run in the FIA WRC 2 Championship category and heads series leader Pontus Tidemand, albeit by a mere 5.1 seconds. Quentin Gilbert has moved into third following the retirement of Gus Greensmith who was forced out with broken steering. Nil Solans now leads the Junior WRC category ahead of Dennis Radstrom and Emil Lindholm.

Rally Poland – Provisional results after Section 3

1.   Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul

Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

56min 21.2sec

2.   Ott Tänak / Martin Järveoja

Ford Fiesta WRC

56min 22.5sec

3.   Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila

Toyota Yaris WRC

56min 27.8sec

4.   Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia

Ford Fiesta WRC

56min 56.3sec

5.   Hayden Paddon / Sebastian Marshall

Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

57min 00.8sec

6.   Dani Sordo / Marc Marti

Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

57min 12.9sec

7.   Teemu Suninen / Mikko Markkula

Ford Fiesta WRC

57min 32.2sec

8.   Juho Hänninen/Kaj Lindström

Toyota Yaris WRC

57min 50.1sec

9.   Stéphane Lefebvre / Gabin Moreau

Citroën C3 WRC

57min 58.2sec

10. Mads Østberg / Ola Floene

Ford Fiesta WRC

58min 03.9sec

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