Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier has re-taken the lead on Rallye Deutschland on Friday's repeat loop, pulling out a 9.5 second gap over Jari-Matti Latvala.
Ogier was in superb form all day, winning seven of the eight stages, but lost his lead initially in SS3, when he was a bit cautious, allowing team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala to go into the mid-day service on top, albeit only by 0.1s.
This afternoon, however, Ogier was able to up the pace, immediately re-taking P1 in Sauertal 2, when he was 2.4s faster than Latvala
The Frenchman then gained 2.3s in SS6 and 4.7s in SS7, before edging Latvala by 0.1s in the final test of the day.
“I had a great afternoon, really good fun,” Ogier told the official WRC site. “It's been a long time since I've had to push so hard on tarmac. Jari-Matti is not too far behind though so we have to keep on going.”
Speaking back in service, Ogier added: “Julien [Ingrassia – my co-driver] and I had a really great start to Rally Germany. It was still slippery in some places this morning, which is why I opted to be a bit more cautious rather than take any unnecessary risks - particularly since we ended up in the vineyard on the Moselland stage [SS3] last year.
“Then the afternoon loop went perfectly for us and we really pushed. The set-up of the Polo was better than in the morning, but Jari-Matti isn't far off. On Panzerplatte on Saturday we definitely need to pick up where we left off today.”
Meanwhile, Latvala said he was doing “all he can”, but he just didn't have the confidence when the roads were dirty: “Overall we are pleased with the day. However, it was very difficult to get the right feeling for braking. I managed it well in the morning, which meant we were fast. I didn't want to continue taking too many risks in the afternoon, however, with the track getting dirtier and dirtier,” Latvala explained.
“Unfortunately this meant that I lost a little more than nine seconds to my team-mate Sebastien. However, second place is a good result at the end of the day and we still have a few special stages to go. And we saw just how quickly things can change here last year. Now I am looking forward to Panzerplatte in particular.”
Behind, VW Motorsport II pilot Andreas Mikkelsen is a rather lonely third, 25.4s off Latvala: “It wasn't easy to get into a good rhythm on asphalt from the word go today. It is six months since we last competed on this surface. I made a few minor errors, in the morning in particular, and frequently braked much too early,” Mikkelsen admitted. “This meant I wasn't able to match the pace of my team-mates. Hats off to their performances.
“We gained more momentum in the afternoon, but had a brief moment of panic when the rear right of my car came into light contact with something on the seventh stage. Then we were a bit more cautious after that. Overall I am pleased with the day and am looking forward to tomorrow. I really like the stages on Baumholder in particular.”
Hyundai duo Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville round out the top five, split by just 1.9s, but more than 30s off Mikkelsen in third.
“It has been a pretty good start to this rally,” said Sordo. “We had a decent morning loop although we had some work to perfect the set-up of the car. We struggled with some understeer but fought through to lunchtime service where we made some modifications and improvements.
“I pushed harder this afternoon and had some good stage times, especially in the final two runs. We have not been able to compete with the top-three drivers but the times are close for the remaining positions so we have to continue pushing hard to score a good haul of manufacturer points.”
“I have had a good day overall with just one difficult stage at the end of the morning loop (SS4), which I started in the wrong rhythm,” Neuville added. “I had pushed quite hard in the third stage so I didn't want to take too many risks and I perhaps took it too cautiously.
“Otherwise, I have tried to push hard throughout the day, finding a rhythm and confidence. The cars at the front are incredibly fast but we need to focus on our own programme, making sure we find improvements all the time and to work as a team to secure important points for the championship. Tomorrow is a long, tough day of stages so we have to remain focused.”
M-Sport's Elfyn Evans is next up in sixth, 13 or so seconds off the Hyundais ahead and 5.7s up on team-mate, Ott Tanak.
Tanak had an off in the first test of the day, but fought back on the repeat loop to overhaul Hayden Paddon and Mads Ostberg.
Paddon and Ostberg now lie eighth and ninth, with Stephane Lefebvre tenth on his competitive debut in the Citroen DS 3 WRC.
Of the rest, Kevin Abbring holds eleventh, one spot ahead of Ford privateer Martin Prokop, who had a bad afternoon, suffering two offs and a spin in SS6, losing over a minute.
Britain's Kris Meeke also had problems in SS6 and went off into a field damaging his DS 3 WRC. Meeke was able to continue, but had to limp through the remaining tests of the day, losing over 9 minutes and dropping from P4 to P25.
Former F1 driver Robert Kubica, who started the event with a 5 minute penalty for an engine change, ends the day in 29th, losing time this afternoon with an off in the penultimate stage. He also had another off in SS8 as well.
In WRC2, Jan Kopecky has been completely dominant, winning all eight stages in his Skoda Fabia R5. Craig Breen holds second, 1m 22.6s back, with Eric Camilli third.
As for retirements, WRC2 championship leader Esapekka Lappi was one of the biggest names to go out, after going off in SS2. He will re-start on Saturday under Rally 2: “It was a real blow,” said Lappi. “I was in second gear on a turn with dirt on the track and slipped off the road completely. I can only apologise to the entire Skoda Motorsport team.”
Rallye Deutschland now continues on Saturday with nine stages on the bill and a competitive distance of 170.79 kilometres. SS9, the 18.35 km Grafschaft 1 test, is due to start at 07.34 hours local time [06.34 hours UK time]. Full itinerary for round nine in WRC 2015 available - HERE
2015 Rallye Deutschland: Overall standings after Stage 8 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 1hr 19m 13.5s
2. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +0m 09.5s
3. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +0m 34.9s
4. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +1m 06.8s
5. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +1m 08.7s
6. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 22.1s
7. Ott Tanak
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 27.8s
8. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +1m 31.4s
9. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +1m 35.4s
10. Stephane Lefebvre
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +2m 27.3s
11. Kevin Abbring
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +3m 48.1s
12. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 48.6s
13. Jan Kopecky
Skoda Fabia R5 +4m 07.2s
14. Craig Breen
Peugeot 208 T16 +5m 29.8s
15. Eric Camilli
Ford Fiesta R5 +5m 44.1s
25. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +10m 02.1s
29. Robert Kubica
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +11m 38.2s
WRC2 standings after Stage 8 (Top 3):
1. Jan Kopecky
Skoda Fabia R5 1hr 23m 20.7s
2. Craig Breen
Peugeot 208 T16 +1m 22.6s
3. Eric Camilli
Ford Fiesta R5 +1m 36.9s
SS2. Esapekka Lappi
Skoda Fabia R5 Went off
M denotes Manufacturer entry
*Will re-start on Saturday under Rally 2
all times unofficial