Shortly before an acceptable time for the morning’s first espresso on Sunday, Rally Turkey was about to explode.
The 38.15km Çetibeli had been marked down as the rockiest and toughest special stage of the weekend. One that everyone should be fearful about.
As early morning sunshine gave an indication of another scorching day to come, road opener Ott Tänak blasted off the start line at 07.30. What happened in the next 67 minutes turned the rally upside down and provided one of the WRC’s most dramatic stages in years.
In a minute-by-minute timeline, we chart the drama that unfolded and the effect each incident had on the rally and the fight for the drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles in the FIA World Rally Championship.
07.30.00: Ott Tänak launches his Hyundai i20 into Rally Turkey’s longest stage. Sporadic intercom problems mean he has difficulty in hearing the pace notes from co-driver Martin Järveoja throughout the test.
07.55.17: Pierre-Louis Loubet pulls his i20 to the side of the road after 26.4km with an engine problem. Ninth place, matching the young Frenchman’s career-best result, was gone.
08.02.38: M-Sport Ford’s Esapekka Lappi stops his Ford Fiesta a little further on at 25.8km. The Finn and co-driver Janne Ferm jump out to replace a punctured tyre before continuing. They are stationary for 1min 52sec.
08.04.15: Fifth-placed Kalle Rovanperä is the next to hit problems. The teenage Finn punctures and pulls over at 17.3km. He is under way again 1min 48sec later. “I have no idea, there was a quite big impact from something, I don’t know if it was a loose stone or something. I didn’t see it,” he explains. It looks like he will lose one place.
08.04.45: Thirty seconds later and Teemu Suninen parks the highest-placed Fiesta in a run-off area after 22.2km. The rear left damper is broken and that’s the end of the road for the Finn. His disappointment is good news for Rovanperä who could retain fifth.
08.12.46: Championship leader Sébastien Ogier’s title hopes suffer a blow with another puncture on his Toyota Yaris. He stops after 18.3km and is back on his way 1min 32sec later after a lightning-quick change by the Frenchman and co-driver Julian Ingrassia. ‘A disaster’ is Ogier’s verdict as third place appears to be gone.
08.23.38: Elfyn Evans, who started the stage in fourth, reaches the finish. A good run by the Yaris man, who is fastest so far by 31.6sec from Tänak. He climbs from fourth to third, demoting team-mate Ogier. “It’s very difficult in there so we just tried to do our best,” said the Welshman.
08.26.16: A catastrophe for leader Thierry Neuville. He has a front right puncture on his i20 and stops after 25.2km. He and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul are back on the move 1min 32sec later – the same time loss as Ogier. “I thought the damper was broken so I carried on and suddenly I realised the tyre was punctured so I had to stop and change,” explains the gutted Belgian. Evans looks good for second now.
08.32.58: Sébastien Loeb’s hopes of a fairytale victory are shattered. The nine-time champion, who was second, breaks the timing beam 1min 20sec slower than Evans. Another puncture. He avoids stopping but it’s no consolation. “I don’t know where. I was driving carefully in the middle of the road, no cuts or anything,” he said. Hyundai Motorsport’s one-two, and the lead of the manufacturers’ championship as it stands, is gone. Evans leads and all eyes are now on the clock as Neuville blasts towards the end.
08.37.27: Neuville finishes. He drops to third, 47.7sec behind Evans, who soars from fourth to first and is on the cusp of taking the championship lead. Neuville is 0.8sec adrift of Ogier, who remarkably climbs to second despite his time loss. Loeb is down to fourth, a further 4.7sec back. Incredibly Toyota Gazoo Racing now has a one-two of its own and is on course to stretch its lead in the title race.