Sébastien Ogier led Rally Turkey at the midpoint of Saturday’s second leg after a titanic morning tussle with Thierry Neuville.
Ogier, third overnight in a Toyota Yaris, won the opening two speed tests to climb to the top of the order at this fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Neuville retaliated to win the third in his Hyundai i20, leaving the margin between the pair at 1.6sec.
Temperatures approaching 30°C and rough gravel mountain roads amid stunning coastal scenery near Marmaris made life far from easy for the pair.
“The gaps are small so everything is still to be played and when we know what still remains in this rally, it’s going to be difficult,” said Ogier.
“We are driving close to the limit but when the feeling is there and I can trust the car, I don’t feel I take too many risks. This afternoon will be very hot and hard for the tyres, usually something which is not bad for me.”
Neuville was less content. “I had a better feeling during testing and I expected us to be more competitive and me to have a better balance with the car and going a bit faster. I struggled with the handling and, especially in the rougher parts, we’re missing performance,” he said.
Ogier’s delight was in contrast to world champion Ott Tänak’s disappointment. The Estonian’s title defence suffered a massive blow when his i20 speared off the road on a short straight in the opening Yeşilbelde special stage.
“We had some kind of steering issue, but we do not know what yet,” he explained. “The car is still in the forest and we have to wait until it gets back to the service park. There was no warning, it was quite instant.”
Asked about the effect on his title bid, he said: “It’s not a positive so there is nothing too much to comment.”
Elfyn Evans bagged a trio of third fastest times to move to third from overnight fourth in his Yaris. The Welshman was 10.7sec adrift of Neuville after a clean run and had 9.4sec in hand over Sébastien Loeb.
Overnight leader Loeb plunged to fourth in Yeşilbelde after a poor tyre choice and faced a battle to hold off Kalle Rovanperä’s Yaris. The Finnish teenager struggled with understeer but was just 3.7sec behind the 46-year-old Frenchman in a battle that spans the generations.
Teemu Suninen was almost half a minute further back in sixth at the head of a trio of Ford Fiestas. Esapekka Lappi and Gus Greensmith were next up, both working on their car’s set-up throughout the morning as they strived for improvements.
Lappi softened his suspension after the first stage but that made his understeer more severe and stiffer settings for the final test made the Finn happier.
Pierre-Louis Loubet twice stalled his i20 in the opening stage but held ninth ahead of Kajetan Kajetanowicz, who led the WRC 3 support category in his Skoda Fabia.
Drivers repeat the same three stages this afternoon, when high temperatures and roads cut up by the morning pass will make conditions even harder.