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WRC – Latvala Leads Rain-Soaked Rally Poland


WRC - 2017 Rally Poland - Friday morning

Jari-Matti Latvala has slipped into the lead of Rally Poland after Friday morning’s opening loop of sodden stages. Overnight and persistent rain has made conditions tricky for all the crews but those running nearer the front of the field have taken a small advantage in the muddy conditions. Surprised by his position, Latvala is topping a close battle and heads Thierry Neuville, Ott Tänak and Sébastien Ogier, the trio all less than 7.3 seconds adrift of the lead.

Rally Poland, the eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, is normally a hot and dry affair but persistent rain has turned the soft and sandy roads into muddy, wet and rutted stages that are worsening with the passage of cars. A heavy storm yesterday afternoon forced the organiser to cancel the official start but last night’s opening super special stage ran as scheduled and saw Elfyn Evans take the overnight lead.

Today, however, crews headed out to the fast and flowing countryside stages, again in pouring rain, for two loops of four stages before returning to Mikolajki for a second run around the purpose-built super special. Neuville was on the pace in the opener, but Latvala took the lead in the longer second stage with a fastest time, despite feeling he wasn’t driving particularly well. Victory in the third stage and second in the last one cemented his advantage and the Finn arrived at the mid-leg service happy with his performance. Neuville added a second stage win in SS5 to his tally, despite trying to find a good rhythm all morning. He is just five-tenths of a second ahead of Ott Tänak, the Estonian so close to winning here last year. He ran wide at a junction early this morning and then stalled on the start line of the last stage but has otherwise adapted to the ever-changing conditions. Team-mate Ogier is hot on his heels, the World Champion also trying to judge the level of grip and how much of a risk to take in the treacherous conditions.

Behind the leading quartet, Hayden Paddon is further adrift in fifth, the Kiwi driver struggling with his later road position and simply trying to survive the opening loop. His Hyundai team-mate Dani Sordo hates inconsistent conditions and the Spaniard has had a couple of spins as he struggles to find a good feeling. Juho Hänninen took a 10 second jump start penalty into the day but has otherwise run without problems into seventh. Teemu Suninen, driving a 2017 specification Fiesta WRC, is a fine eighth and ahead of factory driver Elfyn Evans. Stéphane Lefebvre heads the Citroën challenge in 10th, the Frenchman taking no risks. Andreas Mikkelsen, again drafted in by the French squad, is 12th after damaging the suspension in the last stage and Craig Breen had a broken drive-shaft in the first stage, a gutting start for the Irishman who was looking for a clean run after problems on the last event in Italy. Esapekka Lappi is currently the only retiree, the Finn out with broken suspension on the Yaris WRC.

In the FIA WRC 2 Championship, the fight is intense and youngster Ole Christian Veiby currently takes the advantage. The Norwegian, who has set three fastest times this morning, heads series leader Pontus Tidemand with Gus Greensmith third. In the Junior WRC Championship, Dennis Radstrom has taken the lead in what is proving to be a very close battle.