First thing on Saturday morning, it seemed as if Ypres Rally Belgium would host a battle for dominance between Hyundai team-mates.
Ott Tänak struck first. On Thierry Neuville’s home turf, the surprise Finland winner was pulling off another blinder, nicking the lead off his heavily favored team-mate by a mere 0.1 seconds.
But he’s drifted backwards since, dropping to second and falling into the hands of Elfyn Evans.
That pace deficit was attributed by Tänak to an until-now nondescript transmission issue.
But at Saturday’s midday service, the 2019 world champion explained exactly how it was affecting his driving – and that it had been hampering him since shakedown.
“We’ve been somehow managing and it’s been mostly on the start-lines and hairpins but now it’s probably wearing out, so a bit more inconsistent, so let’s see what we can do,” he said.
“We just don’t have enough locking in the differentials and it’s been wearing out.”
Tanäk was also unsure whether a fix would be possible before the next loop of stages: “Let’s see, it’s down to the team now if they have anything to put in which is better than this.”
Active center differentials were outlawed for the new generation of Rally1 cars in favor of mechanical limited-slip diffs at the front and rear, limiting their performance impact compared to the World Rally Car era.
Rally leader Thierry Neuville was skeptical as to how much time inconsistent differential locking was really costing his Hyundai team-mate.
“I don’t know what the trouble should be, but it seems like he can go the speed of Elfyn so it can’t be a big issue,” he mused.
Neuville also revealed there was a key strategic reason why he’d fallen behind Tänak overall on Saturday morning’s first test, before he hit back with two stage wins to streak into a 16.2s lead.
“In the first stage this morning there was a high risk of punctures so I was a bit more careful in there,” Neuville revealed.
“But on the following stages, I had a clean run through despite a lot of confusion on the start-line, several times.
“Once we had to wait seven minutes, once we had to restart twice and get a red flag as well – a bit confusing. But yeah, generally a good loop for us.”