Jari-Matti Latvala leads Rallye Deutschland at the close of the opening day, after his Volkswagen team-mate Sebastien Ogier went off in the final test.
Ogier had built up a 1.8 second lead this morning after winning two of three stages and he increased that to 5.6 seconds this afternoon in the first test, the repeat-run through the 14.14 km Sauertal 2 stage. Latvala wasn't giving up, however, and edged the Frenchman by 0.1 seconds in SS5 to maintain the pressure. Ogier then made a critical error around 7 kilometres into the delayed final test, and went off the road
. He was able to continue, but couldn't get back on the stage and had to retire from the leg. Volkswagen has since confirmed he will re-start on Saturday under Rally 2 – albeit having picked up a 10 minute penalty for missing SS6.
“We got the message from the team that Seb was off,” Latvala told reporters at the end of Moselland 2, “and I lost my rhythm for a bit. I wasn't sure how to drive - whether to push or not and we may have lost some time, but it's OK.
“I think we saw the place [where Seb went off] but to be honest it could have been from the first pass...”
Speaking back in service, Latvala added: “It is obviously a great shame for Sebastien and Julien [Ingrassia – his co-driver] that their chances of winning evaporated on the final stage of the day – up until then we had been embroiled in a great, hard-fought duel for the lead. When I received the news from the team by SMS, I took my foot off the gas a little.
“With a lead of over half a minute, we now hold all the aces to win the Rally Germany for Volkswagen for the first time. We must remain fully focussed in order to achieve this goal. It will not be an easy job mastering the coming stages and the unsettled weather conditions.”
Kris Meeke meanwhile now moves up to second, 37 seconds back: “I'm pretty happy with today's leg on my first rally back on tarmac,” he noted. “I lost around ten seconds when I spun on the opening stage. After that, the rhythm was good.
"It's promising to be in second position this evening. But we know that anything can still happen in the rest of the rally. We'll be taking a good look at the weather forecast, because we'll need to make the right tyre choice. There's still a long way to go in this Rally Germany!”
Dani Sordo completes the top three, 5.6 seconds off Meeke. The Spaniard went second quickest in his Hyundai in SS6 and that was enough for him to leapfrog Volkswagen Motorsport II pilot Andreas Mikkelsen – the two now split by 3 seconds.
“It is good to be back with the team and to take part in this rally which holds very special memories for me after winning last year,” noted Sordo. “I can really feel a lot of improvement from the team and from the Hyundai i20 WRC. We knew that it wouldn't be an easy day because of our position on the road but we gave it our maximum and I think we can be satisfied to be in the podium places so far.
“The first stage this morning was not too bad but the second one was very muddy and slippery. We had a decent afternoon. I made a small mistake in SS5 which lost some time but we pushed hard at the end and had a very competitive final stage so we have to be pleased. There'll be more to come tomorrow, so third overall is a good place to be tonight!”
“I took a very cautious approach to the start of the Rally Germany, in order to gradually get used to the conditions on the asphalt,” Mikkelsen explained. “Despite this, I still caught the outside of a corner with my rear wheel at the start of the third stage, and damaged the rim in the process. That cost a bit of time. We altered the set-up of our Polo for the afternoon, in order to solve the slight understeer we were getting. That paid off. I am very happy with day one here in Germany. My goal of achieving a top-five result, if possible, has not changed. In this regard we are on track and even have a chance of a podium. I am excited to see what we can achieve over the next two days.”
Thierry Neuville ends the day fifth, although he had a scare at the end with a lot of heat coming from his car. He also reported smoke from around 2 kilometres into SS6.
“Firstly, I would like to thank all of the mechanics for their incredible work to fix the car after yesterday [when I crashed in the shakedown]. They are really to be commended and their efforts allowed Nicolas [Gilsoul – my co-driver] and me to start the rally this morning,” Neuville stated.
“We had some handbrake set-up issues in the first stage which cost us some time but things improved throughout the day. I felt confident in the car and, although the conditions were a bit tricky at times, we were able to end the day not too far from the podium. There was a problem in the final stage and we had a lot of smoke in the cockpit so we'll look into that. Overall, I am sure we will find some improvements for tomorrow, which is a longer day of eight stages, including the long Panzerplatte stage, so it will be a decisive day for everybody.”
M-Sport team leader Mikko Hirvonen is sixth, 1.9 seconds adrift, with the sister car of Elfyn Evans in P7 and 5.2 further back. Mads Ostberg is also right in that scrap, and despite a difficult day, trails Evans by just 1.7s.
“I'm happy with the way things have gone today," said Hirvonen. "If you look at the positions, we're maybe not exactly where we wanted to be but it is so close out there! It's great to be in the fight and if we can continue to push tomorrow then I'm sure we can be in the fight for the podium.”
“I think it's gone as well as we could have hoped today," Evans added. "This was my first ever day in a world rally car on proper tarmac so I think to be where we are is as much as we could have expected. It's been a little bit up and down and there are certainly places where we could have been better; but on the whole it's not been bad at all and I'm really looking forward to seeing what we can do tomorrow."
Behind, Bryan Bouffier is ninth on his debut with Hyundai, while Ford privateer Martin Prokop holds tenth.
“It's been a special day for me to take part in my first WRC event in Hyundai Motorsport colours,” Bouffier said. “I know the team and the car well from my involvement in testing and development, as well as Rallye Antibes, but a WRC weekend is another experience completely.
“It was not a bad start today. We had to adapt our driving to the slippery conditions and just to focus on finding a rhythm. The car was very nicely balanced although I struggled a bit on the exit of hairpins because my gearbox is in gravel spec. I enjoyed the second pass a lot and overall it is great to end the Friday in the top ten.
“There's a long way to go but already I find confidence from the improvements made to the Hyundai i20 WRC since Antibes, which makes for a more responsive car. I am already looking forward to the morning.”
In WRC2, Bernardo Sousa remains in the lead. He had increased his advantage to almost 8 seconds after SS5, but Pontus Tidemand slashed that to 4.2s after topping the class in SS6. Julien Maurin is third, 14.7s off P2, while Nasser Al-Attiyah and Ott Tanak hold fourth and fifth.
Other than Ogier, there were no other major retirements, although Robert Kubica did go off in SS3 and lose over 4 minutes. He had been running 9th prior to that.
“It hasn't been easy, but we are learning a lot," said Kubica. "We made a mistake on the last stage this morning [Moselland, SS3] and we had another small mistake in there this afternoon [SS6] and had to reverse. I know why it happened, and because of that I can regain my confidence. I've learnt a lot today and I'm looking forward to tomorrow's stages when I hope we can show some more progression and continue to learn.”
Rallye Deutschland now continues on Saturday with two loops of four stages on the bill and a competitive distance of 148.30 kilometres – the longest day of the event. It also includes the 40 odd km run through the daunting Panzerplatte test.
SS7, the 17.53 km Stein & Wein 1 test, is now due to start tomorrow at 07.38 hours local time [06.38 hours UK time].
Rallye Deutschland: Overall standings after Stage 6 (Top 10):
1. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 59m 36.8s
2. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +00m 37.0s
3. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +00m 42.6s
4. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +00m 45.6s
5. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +00m 53.1s
6. Mikko Hirvonen
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 55.0s
7. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 00.2s
8. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +01m 01.9s
9. Bryan Bouffier
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +01m 35.6s
10. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02m 07.1s
11. Dennis Kuipers
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03m 28.3s
12. Sam Moffett
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03m 44.7s
13. Bernardo Sousa
Ford Fiesta RRC +04m 12.5s
14. Yuriy Protasov
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04m 16.3s
15. Pontus Tidemand
Ford Fiesta R5 +04m 16.7s
22. Robert Kubica
RK M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +05m 18.8s
35. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +09m 54.5s
WRC2 standings after Stage 6 (Top 3):
1. Bernardo Sousa
Ford Fiesta RRC 1hr 03m 49.3s
2. Pontus Tidemand
Ford Fiesta R5 +00m 04.2s
3. Julien Maurin
Ford Fiesta R5 +00m 18.9s
SS6. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC Went off
*denotes will re-start under Rally 2 on Saturday
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial