The Turkish rollercoaster sees Tanak make most of Neuville and Ogier's misfortunes. Paddon secures the final podium, but Toyota takes the championship lead
The World Rally Championship returned to Turkey after a hiatus of eight years, which meant all teams arriving at the Asparan service park were at a level playing field with neither of them having had any sort of data to rely on. Preparing pace note from scratch, not knowing the perfect car set-up ahead of the stages and lack of tyre performance resulted in Rally Turkey yielding one of the bigger upsets of the season, knocking off the championship leader Theirry Neuville and the reigning champion, Sebastien Ogier with broken suspensions on Saturday, only to let Ott Tanak register a hat-trick of victories and find himself right in the thick of things.
Team Hyundai\’s big ambition is to clinch both the titles this year, and it kickstarted its Turkish affair on a strong note with Andreas Mikkelsen setting the fastest time through the Marmaris\’ marina bay opener. While Nueville only managed to post the fifth-fastest time, Hayden Paddon, the third Hyundai driver didn\’t have a great start, languishing in 17th. Fortunately for Nueville, his closest title rival Ogier missed his braking points after the jump on SS1 and that put him well outside of the Top 10.The following morning saw Citroen driver Craig Breen take an early lead, however, his pace dropped as the stages got tougher, giving away the top spot to Mikkelsen who jumped the Toyota by more than 6 seconds by SS4. In the meantime, Neuville, Latvala and Ogier were all making progress, slowly climbing the charts, while Tanak was still struggling at the bottom of Top 10.
Towards the end of the day though, Mikkelsen lost his advantage as he struggled for grip, losing almost 10 seconds in the bargain. By then, both Thierry and Seb had picked up pace and although Tanak claimed a victory on the SS7, misfortunes for other drivers allowed the top two championship contenders to post fast times that would catapult them to the top of the timesheet, with just 0.3 seconds splitting the Hyundai and M-Sport drivers. Citroen\’s rally started to fall apart when both its drivers, Breen and Mads Ostberg suffered tyre damages and suspension failure. And while Tanak did complain about lack of grip and pace, he posted a respectable time to find himself behind Latvala in fifth, with Paddon hot on his tail.Big setbacks started to kick in as Nueville became the first big ticket retirement on Saturday morning after suffering a suspension damage, forcing him out of running. Despite all his efforts in fixing his i20, Thierry had to retire for the day and would only be able to take points on the powerstage on Sunday. If that gave M-Sport\’s Ogier hopes of finally making big strides in the championship battle, his excitement was short-lived as he too couldn\’t capitalise on his rival\’s catastrophe owing to a broken wishbone on his Fiesta, making him lose vital stage time.
A quick roadside fix did allow him to finish the stage, but eventually picked up a 60-second time penalty for checking in late. He eventually slid off on one of the corners and couldn\’t rejoin on the road. As a result, Mikkelsen found himself in the lead, once again. With a string of solid stage times, Ott Tanak fought his way up the timesheet, and is now 36.3 adrift the rally leader, closely followed by teammate Jari-Matti Latvala.More drama and twists awaited as Mikkelsen\’s i20, while leading the rally, faced mechanical issues and was reduced to being a rear-wheel driven car. The repair work saw him lose time and being penalised by a further 3\:20minutes, pushing him down to fifth, handing over the rally lead to Tanak. His team-mate Latvala made it a Toyota one-two with Hyundai\’s Paddon, who has had a cautious and a relatively uneventful outing, now rounding off the top-three by the end of the proceedings on Saturday.
With Toyota imposing team orders, it was apparent Tanak and Latvala would hold positions in first and second respectively, winning maximum points as a team and improving Tanak\’s title hopes. Both drivers completed the morning stages without any further drama, effectively giving Ott Tanak his third consecutive WRC victory. Interstingly, Paddon, took the final podium spot. On Sunday though, both Neuville and Ogier got back into their cars, with Thierry winning SS14 and Seb leading the charts in SS15 and SS16, helping him climb into the final Top 10. Neuville won the powerstage, adding five bonus points to his tally, with Ogier claiming four points for finishing second.
What proved to be the toughest rally on the machines and stages with the slowest average speed in the championship yet, the rally of Turkey has thrown the championship battle wide open with Tanak now splitting Neuville and Ogier in the overall standings. With three rallies remaining in the c\’ship, Ott is only 13 down on the leader and 10 up on the five-time world champion. Can Neuville manage to hang on to his lead? Can Hyundai bounce back and finally clinch the title this year? Only time will tell.