Thierry Neuville leads Rally Turkey after former leader Sébastien Ogier dropped to third place with his Toyota Yaris WRC developing a mechanical issue.
The 19.5-mile Yeşilbelde claimed World Rally Champion Ott Tänak on Saturday morning as the steering on his Hyundai broke, and it began to wreak havoc on the second pass too with several drivers picking up problems.
Elfyn Evans, who is now up to second, provided some insight: “It’s very difficult, very, very difficult. The tire wear is high and very rough as well.”
The Welshman survived unscathed though and profited from the issues that inflicted his team-mate Ogier.
The exact nature of Ogier’s troubles are unclear as he pulled away from the stage stop-line without making comment, but he did have a front-left puncture to boot. It is believed he could have some sort of gearbox issue, as he was backing out of the power at points and appeared to occasionally be stuck in gear.
Ogier lost 31.5s to stage winner Neuville to drop to 29.9s behind overall, and is 8.1s adrift of Evans’ second spot.
It means Neuville now holds a 21.8s lead over Evans with a stage time that was 11.1s quicker.
“Yeah it was OK for me. I had a good stage but obviously the tire wear must be very bad. I tried to be efficient, we have two near tires for two short stages so it should be fine,” Neuville commented.
The third Toyota of Kalle Rovanperä had designs on Sébastien Loeb’s fourth place heading into Saturday afternoon, but he collected a front right-puncture on SS6.
The damage to the timesheets was clear as he lost 26.1s to Hyundai driver Loeb and 14.3s to M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen behind, with Suninen now just 14.4s back overall in sixth.
Loeb punched in the second fastest time on Yeşilbelde – 10.1s adrift of Neuville – despite “completely losing the tire at the end”.
But Loeb is now only 0.3s shy of Ogier, and the bottom step of the podium.
Suninen has been the strongest performer for M-Sport on Rally Turkey so far and he kept up his form on Yeşilbelde despite picking up some front-end splitter damage on his Fiesta.
“Yeah, it’s normal here,” was Suninen’s assessment of the damage.
Esapekka Lappi wasn’t happy with his M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC in the morning and things don’t look to have improved, based on the evidence of Saturday afternoon’s first stage.
Drivers weren’t hanging around long for a chat at the stage end, but Lappi’s time was poor, 28.6s slower than Suninen to lie almost a minute behind now overall.
“We changed the dampers but it’s not still perfect,” Lappi said, somewhat explaining the issue.
Gus Greensmith had been on course to outpace Lappi on the test but picked up a rear-right puncture towards the end and lost 9.5s to the Finn.
He still managed to beat Pierre-Louis Loubet – who suffered a stall in his 2C Competition-run Hyundai – by 16.8s to extend his overall advantage to 56.4s, but his tire was looking rather sorry for itself at the end of the stage.
“Funnily enough I had a puncture in this stage last year and it was around the same area,” Greensmith rued.
1 Neuville (Hyundai) 24m41.6s
2 Loeb (Hyundai) +10.1s
3 Evans (Toyota) +11.1s
4 Suninen (M-Sport Ford) +21.9s
5 Ogier (Toyota) +31.5s
6 Rovanperä (Toyota) +36.2s
Leading positions after SS6
1 Neuville (Hyundai) 1h22m35.6s
2 Evans (Toyota) +21.8s
3 Ogier (Toyota) +29.9s
4 Loeb (Hyundai) +30.2s
5 Rovanperä (Toyota) +1m00.0s
6 Suninen (M-Sport Ford) +1m14.4s
7 Lappi (M-Sport Ford) +2m12.0s
8 Greensmith (M-Sport Ford) +2m45.9s
9 Loubet (2C Competition Hyundai) +3m42.3s
10 Kajetan Kajetanowicz (Škoda) +5m12.5s