Volkswagen duo Jari-Matti Latvala and Sebastien Ogier are locked in a tight scrap for the lead on Rallye Deutschland following Friday's opening loop.
Latvala, who was quickest in the shakedown, trailed Ogier in SS1 and SS2, losing 1.4s to the Frenchman in Sauertal 1 and 0.4s in Waxweller 1. However, in SS3, it was Latvala's turn to set the pace, 2.3s up on Ogier, putting him top – albeit by just 0.5s. Ogier then struck back in SS4, but with Latvala only 0.4s slower, the Finn hangs onto the lead going into the 30 minute mid-day service in Trier.
“It is getting better,” Latvala told the official WRC site. “It is all about getting the braking right. It was more difficult this morning that I thought it would be, but now we have a service. Normally this rally gets easier in the afternoon.”
Meanwhile, Ogier conceded that he was probably a bit too careful in SS3, Moselland 1: “Last year I went off in there and perhaps I was a bit too cautious,” he confirmed. “I'm not driving perfectly. Okay, a good drive for sure but I'm looking for perfection and at the minute it's not the case."
Speaking after SS4, he added: “On this stage I was a bit happier with the set-up. It is still slippery in the corners, and [it has] not [been] a perfect loop, but a good drive.”
Behind, VW Motorsport II pilot Andreas Mikkelsen is next up in third, almost 16s off the fight ahead and 5.5s up on Kris Meeke in P4.
“I haven't got one stage yet that is clean and good. I lose my speed after the corners because I'm going too fast into them. I need some time to settle in,” Mikkelsen explained. “Not too much to worry about though. I just need more time.”
Meeke had a little scare in SS3 when he hit a kerb, but again is very much 'best of the rest' behind the dominant VWs: “It was just a broken rim [in SS3] - not a big drama,” the Ulsterman insisted. “I had a good run in here [SS4], I took my time, but it's impossible to catch the three guys ahead. My target is just to keep ahead of the other drivers.”
Hyundai's Dani Sordo rounds-out the top-five, 12.5s adrift and 2.9s ahead of team-mate Thierry Neuville.
Further back, Elfyn Evans holds seventh for M-Sport, despite handbrake problems in SS3, while Hayden Paddon, Mads Ostberg and Ott Tanak fill positions 8 through to 10, the latter surviving an off at the start of the very first stage.
“It was an interesting start," said Tanak. "The first section [of SS1] was quite slippery and when we got to the first corner on the wider section – where we were expecting it to be clean – it was covered with dust and gravel. We went straight into the fence and over the road again into the barrier. We stalled and had to turn around so lost quite a lot of time and confidence.
“After that we've just been trying to build everything back up and keep improving. It's very dirty in places so it's really difficult to drive with confidence. The conditions should be a bit more consistent for everyone this afternoon and our notes will be better too so let's just wait and see what happens.”
Of the rest, Ford privateer Martin Prokop is just outside the top-ten, 11.3s behind Tanak, with Stephane Lefebvre 12th on his WRC car debut, one spot ahead of Kevin Abbring.
Former F1 driver Robert Kubica is 32nd, having picked up a 5 minute penalty for an engine change. Without that he would be ninth.
In WRC2, Jan Kopecky leads, 21.2s up on Armin Kremer. Craig Breen is third. Esapekka Lappi, who won the last two WRC2 events and who leads the WRC2 drivers championship, crashed out in SS2.
Rallye Deutschland now continues this afternoon, with repeat runs through all four of this morning's tests. SS5, the 14.84 km Sauertal 1 test, is due to start at 14.40 hours local time [13.40 hours UK time]. Full itinerary for round nine in WRC 2015 available - HERE
2015 Rallye Deutschland: Overall standings after Stage 4 (Top 10):
1. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 39m 41.7s
2. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +0m 00.1s
3. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +0m 15.9s
4. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +0m 21.4s
5. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +0m 33.9s
6. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +0m 36.8s
7. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +0m 41.6s
8. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +0m 44.0s
9. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +0m 50.8s
10. Ott Tanak
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +0m 51.8s
11. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 03.1s
12. Stephane Lefebvre
Citroen DS 3 WRC +1m 06.1s
13. Kevin Abbring
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +1m 54.4s
14. Jan Kopecky
Skoda Fabia R5 +2m 00.1s
15. Armin Kremer
Skoda Fabia R5 +2m 21.3s
WRC2 standings after Stage 4 (Top 3):
1. Jan Kopecky
Skoda Fabia R5 41m 41.8s
2. Armin Kremer
Skoda Fabia R5 +0m 21.2s
3. Craig Breen
Peugeot 208 T16 +0m 39.3s
SS2. Esapekka Lappi
Skoda Fabia R5 Went off
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial