Storms turned the narrow and bumpy Mosel vineyard tracks and Saarland country lanes into a mudbath. All the leading drivers spent time off the road as they fought for grip in treacherous conditions.
Estonian Tänak won three of the seven special stages covering 108.51km, but was fortunate to survive the day.
“At a hairpin I pulled the handbrake but couldn’t see out of the car and went straight into the vines. I was very lucky to get back, but I still enjoyed driving in such tricky conditions,” he admitted.
Ironically, the morning was drier than expected and tyre choice proved difficult. The afternoon rain meant Michelin’s full wet ‘monsoon’ tyres were pressed into use for the first time since being introduced 12 months ago.
Mikkelsen made the most of them to hold second in a Citroën C3 after taking a surprise lead earlier. His low start position meant he faced dirtier roads as those ahead dragged mud and stones onto the surface when they cut corners.
The enthralling fight for the championship between Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier took myriad twists and turns. Neuville slid off the road and damaged his Hyundai i20’s aero package this morning and again in the final stage.
Ogier was unhappy with his Fiesta’s set-up. He spun in the opener, but held the upper hand over the recovering Belgian until the final test when he pirouetted again. He lost 20sec, allowing Neuville to overnight in third with a 2.4sec advantage.
Elfyn Evans overcame understeer to hold fifth in another Fiesta, with Juho Hänninen sixth, despite sliding his Toyota Yaris into the Mosel grapes this morning.
Dani Sordo led briefly before missing a corner under braking and his i20 plunged 40 metres into bushes and trees. The other major retirement was Esapekka Lappi, who crashed his Yaris into a ditch when sixth.
Saturday accounts for almost half the rally’s distance and features the infamous mixed surface Panzerplatte tank training roads and narrow country lanes. Four morning stages are repeated in the afternoon, adding up to 146.67km of action.
1. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Ford Fiesta 1hr 07min 23.0sec
2. A Mikkelsen / A Jaeger NOR Citroën C3 + 5.7sec
3. T Neuville / N Gilsoul BEL Hyundai i20 + 28.2sec
4. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Ford Fiesta + 30.6sec
5. E Evans / D Barritt GBR Ford Fiesta + 52.1sec
6. J Hänninen / K Lindström FIN Toyota Yaris + 1min 14.7sec