Hyundai’s Neuville and m-sport’s Tanak set up gripping Polish finale

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Belgian Thierry Neuville and Estonian Ott Tanak held their nerve in improving stage conditions to set up the prospect of a gripping finale to a pulsating 74th Rally Poland.

Neuville, partnered by navigator Nicolas Gilsoul in a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, reached the rain-soaked overnight halt in Mikolajki with a lead of just 3.1 seconds after the lead swapped between the rivals on five occasions during the day’s nine gravel stages.

Neuville ceded the lead on SS16 after a puncture, but Tanak’s M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC lost its rear wing on the same stage and Neuville was able to claw his way back into contention, despite getting caught up in heavy rain on the last of the day’s gravel stages.

Neuville said: “I felt I was a bit unlucky. I had a lot of rain on the last five kilometres of the last gravel stage. I pushed very hard, but some of my advantage was lost.”

Toyota GAZOO Racing World Rally Team’s Jari-Matti Latvala had been the third driver in the mix for much of the day, although he had dropped a few seconds behind the leading duo before losing drive to his Yaris WRC after a hard landing in a compression forced him to a standstill on the 16th stage and cost him third place.

One of the performances of the day came from New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon. Smarting following the All Blacks’ defeat to the British and Irish Lions on Saturday morning, the second of the i20 Coupe WRC drivers set three fastest times, overhauled defending World Champion Sébastien Ogier and settled into a comfortable third position.

Ogier battled back from two flat tyres on the first loop of four stages to regain fourth position from Spain’s Dani Sordo, who also sustained a flat tyre two stages from the end.

Finland’s Teemu Suninen continued his impressive debut in a World Rally Car with sixth position and Sébastien Lefebvre was consistently the quickest of the three Citroën C3 WRC drivers in seventh.

Ford’s Mats Østberg and Elfyn Evans were a distant eighth and ninth and Andreas Mikkelsen overhauled a struggling Juha Hänninen to round off the top 10.

WRC 2 swung firmly in Norway’s favour after the second run through Goldap. Ole Christian Veiby reached Mikolajki with a comfortable lead after Swedish rival Pontus Tidemand sustained a time-consuming flat tyre and lost 48 seconds. Quentin Gilbert was a distant third, despite his own rear differential issues.

Nil Solans continued to dominate the WRC 3 category from Dennis Radstrom and Terry Folb.

Sunday

Tomorrow, teams tackle two runs through the remaining two special stages. The new 11.15km of the Orzysz special gets proceedings underway at 08.10hrs and the all-important televised Paprotki Power Stage of 18.68km rounds off the action at 12.18hrs. The podium ceremony will then take place in Mikolajki’s main square from 14.30hrs.

74th Rally Poland – positions after SS19:

  1. Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC2hr 10min 26.3sec
  2. Ott Tanak (EST)/Martin Jarveoja (EST) Ford Fiesta WRC2hr 10min 29.4sec
  3. Hayden Paddon (NZL)/Sebastian Marshall (GBR) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2hr 10min 51.8sec
  4. Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Ford Fiesta WRC2hr 11min 58.3sec
  5. Dani Sordo (ESP)/Marc Marti (ESP) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC2hr 12min 10.1sec
  6. Teemu Suninen (FIN)/Mikko Markkula (FIN) Ford Fiesta WRC2hr 12min 32.5sec     
  7. Stéphane Lefebvre (FRA)/Gabin Moreau (FRA) Citroën C3 WRC2hr 12min 46.6sec
  8. Mads Østberg (NOR)/Ola Floene (NOR) Ford Fiesta WRC 2hr 13min 12.1sec
  9. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Daniel Barritt (GBR) Ford Fiesta WRC2hr 13min 49.4 sec
  10. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Anders Jaeger (NOR) Citroën C3 WRC2hr 14min 00.9sec
  11. Juha Hänninen (FIN)/Kaj Lindström (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC2hr 14min 04.3sec

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