Rally Poland was an event full
of drama and incredible action, with insane speeds on wet and slippery roads,
and lots of unexpected twists involving every one of the leading contenders. In the end, Thierry Neuville
claimed his third rally win of the season to close the gap to World
Championship leader Sébastien Ogier to just 11 points with five rallies to go.
Hyundai driver’s victory was assured on the second stage of the final day – which
had an incredible average of 125kph – when his closest rival Ott Tanak went off
and heavily damaged his Ford Fiesta, forcing him into retirement.
The four-day rally provided
edge-of-the-seat drama throughout in torrential rain, driving winds and thick
mud. The lead changed hands 10 times in 23 stages as title chasers Neuville and
Tänak traded tenths of a second on blisteringly fast roads.
Neuville began Sunday’s (July
02) final leg in front, but a stunning drive through the opening speed test
promoted his Estonian rival ahead. But in the next stage Tänak slammed his Ford
Fiesta into a tree.
He limped to the finish but
the damage was too great to continue. Neuville eased through the remaining
kilometres to head team-mate Hayden Paddon by 1min 23.9sec, with Ogier a
further 56.9sec adrift in third.
“Ott drove a great rally. In
such a fight nobody gives up. I wasn’t ready to give up and was prepared to
win,” said Neuville, for whom this was a sixth consecutive podium, adding that “I
was sorry for him and congratulate him on the job he did before he crashed. He
was amazing again and one guy who was hard to beat.”
Tänak was chasing his second
straight win after claiming a maiden victory in Italy last month. It was the
third year he has tasted disappointment in Poland after leading in 2015 and
2016 but failing to secure victory.
“It was the only muddy place
in the forest. Maybe I didn’t expect it to be that bad. I hit a bank with the
rear and it pulled the front into a tree at high speed. Was I driving too hard?
You need to push hard if you want to win,” said a disappointed Tänak.
Paddon ended a torrid 12
months since his last podium. The Kiwi could not match the pace of the early
starters on Friday’s rain-soaked and sludgy tracks, but an error-free event
combined with several stage wins as conditions improved brought its reward.
Ogier was blighted by a string
of problems in his Fiesta, including sliding into a field this morning but the
Frenchman persevered to finish 26.6sec clear of Dani Sordo. The Spaniard punctured
a tyre but ended 24.4sec clear of Stéphane Lefebvre, who equalled his
career-best result. The WRC’s summer speedfest continues at Neste Rally
Finland, the fastest round in the championship, which is based in Jyväskylå on
27 - 30 July.
Rally Poland (round 8 of 13)
T Neuville / N Gilsou (Hyundai
i20) 2hr 40min 46.1sec
H Paddon / S Marshall (Hyundai
i20) + 1min 23.9sec
S Ogier / J Ingrassia (Ford
Fiesta) + 2min 20.8sec
D Sordo / M Marti (Hyundai
i20) + 2min 47.4sec
S Lefebvre / G Moreau (Citroën
C3) + 3min 11.8sec
T Suninen / M Markkula (Ford
Fiesta) + 3min 16.8sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 8 of
Sébastien Ogier - 160 points
Thierry Neuville - 149 points
Jari-Matti Latvala - 112
Ott Tänak - 108 points
Dani Sordo - 82 points
Elfyn Evans - 57 points
Hayden Paddon - 51 points
Craig Breen - 43 points
Juho Hanninen - 30 points
Kris Meeke - 27 points
(Source: Red Bull Content Pool)