Thierry Neuville finished the penultimate day of Rally Turkey with a 33-second lead over Sebastien Ogier and Sebastien Loeb who share second place.
It was a profitable day for Neuville as his title rival’s Ott Tanak and Ogier encountered mechanical problems with varying consequences on the day’s toughest stage, Yesilbelde.
“The afternoon has been much better than this morning,” said Neuville. “We worked on the set-up and I must say I was much more happy with the car, especially in the rough sections.
“Tomorrow has the roughest stage of the rally so we need to avoid punctures and damage to the car.”
Defending World Rally Champion, Ott Tanak, could only watch from the service park as Neuville and Ogier fought for the rally lead on Saturday morning’s three stages.
After a frustrating start on Friday evening, Tanak’s rally went from bad to worse on the first stage of day two. The Estonian’s Hyundai i20 WRC veered off the road on a straight section, 26 km into the 32 km test.
Tanak and co-driver Martin Jarveoja attempted to fix the steering issue which caused the accident but quickly abandoned attempts when it became clear it was terminal.
Ogier was the man to beat on the opening pass of Yesilbelde but the stage was to be his undoing on the second loop.
Thanks to a brace of stage-wins on Saturday morning, Ogier headed out of the lunch-time service with a 1.6-second lead over Neuville. The Frenchman’s advantage was quickly lost, though, when his Yaris WRC started to suffer from a hydraulic issue during Stage 6.
The problem seemed to affect Ogier’s gear changes and cost him over 30-seconds to Neuville on the stage.
Ogier and Julian Ingrassia made a temporary fix on the road section to Stage 7. Although the issue wasn’t completely resolved their times improved on the final two stages.
Elfyn Evans jumped into second after his team-mate’s troubles but he had to manage his tyres on the day’s remaining two stages and dropped down to fourth.
“Before [the final stage] we had one tyre with a puncture which we had to put some metal set into it to try and repair,” explained Evans at the end of Stage 8. “The other one was already delaminated so it was a case of trying to get through with damage limitation.”
Loeb struggled to match the pace set by Ogier and Neuville on Saturday morning after picking an extra medium tyre.
A string of top-three stage times on the second pass promoted Loeb back up to joint-second alongside Ogier as all the crews managed tyre wear in the hot Turkish conditions.
Kalle Rovanpera finished the day in fifth, 18 seconds behind Evans, as he was another driver encountering problems on the infamous Yesilbelde stage. Rovanpera’s puncture on the first stage of the final loop meant he had to preserve his tyres even more than his rivals.
The young Finn did enough to stay ahead of the three M-Sport crews who occupy sixth, seventh and eighth.
Despite losing his front splitter on Yesilbelde, Teemu Suninen finished the day ahead of Esapekka Lappi who struggled to find the right set-up on his Ford Fiesta WRC throughout Saturday.
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The first of Rally Turkey’s final four stages starts at 0530, UK time, on Sunday morning.
Rally Turkey standings: (End of Day 2 / SS8)
1 T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai) 1:36:38.6
2 S. Loeb / D. Elena (Hyundai) +33.2s
= S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Toyota) +33.2
4 E. Evans / S. Martin (Toyota) +1:00.8
5 K. Rovanpera / J. Halttunen (Toyota) +1:18.8
Cover photo courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool / Jaanus Ree