Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala has a slender 7.3sec lead of ADAC Rallye Deutschland, at the end of a thrilling second day, during which he fended off a determined attack from Ford Fiesta RS driver Thierry Neuville.
Latvala took the lead on today’s opening stage after his team-mate Sebastien Ogier went off, breaking the front suspension on his Polo R and retiring shortly after.
Inheriting a lead of less than six seconds, Latvala was under pressure in the morning loop, losing time on all three stages to Neuville. But after car set-up changes in service, the increasingly confident Finn upped his pace on the drier afternoon stages, and ended the day with two fastest times.
“I have to be honest, I really enjoyed driving the last two,” said Latvala. “The car is really nice at the moment and I love it. Okay, it’s not easy, but I think we’re going in the right direction. For tomorrow I don’t know. We’re expecting rain and on this rally you never know what that might bring.”
On his preferred road surface, Neuville has never looked closer to his first WRC victory, but the 25-year-old Belgian admitted he didn’t have anything else in reserve.
“On the last two stages I was at the maximum, flat-out everywhere - I can’t do more,” he said. “I was pushing like hell. No mistakes, always very fast and sideways but that’s what you need to do here. It's big, big fun but when I see the split times I’m a little bit frustrated.”
Citroen’s Dani Sordo is best of the rest in third, 19sec behind Neuville. The Spaniard lost time on SS9 when he braked too late for a hairpin but otherwise had a good day – especially after stiffening the suspension of his DS3 after Stage 5.
However, even with two days of the rally still to go Sordo isn’t optimistic about catching Latvala. “I think it’s impossible, no? He’s going very, very fast,” he said. “I tried to catch but unless something happens I think it will be very, very difficult.”
Sordo’s team-mate Mikko Hirvonen is fourth - the place in which he finished most of today’s stages. The Finn had a troublefree day, but without the outright speed to challenge those ahead he is resigned to lying in wait in case they hit trouble.
“C’est la via,” shrugged Hirvonen. “They are fast and quite far ahead at the moment. I’m happy with the car and the pace I have, all I can do is try and hang on in there. You never know what might happen…”
Behind the top four, there is a 1min 24sec gap to a downcast Mads Ostberg in fifth. The Norwegian tinkered with the set-up of his Fiesta RS throughout the day but is yet to find a set-up that gives him the confidence to push.
“We cannot expect ourselves to be at the speed of the others like this. We have to focus and improve step by step to find the confidence,’ he said.
Behind Ostberg is a big 2min 5sec gap to Martin Prokop in sixth - the Czech baffled by his lack of pace. “I’m trying my best, the feeling is okay, and I’m enjoying the driving but the times aren't good,” he said. “Something must be wrong but I don’t know what. It's not great for the motivation.”
Ford Fiesta RS driver Nasser Al-Attiyah is seventh, with WRC 2 leader Robert Kubica eighth in a Citroen DS3 RRC.
Khalid Al Qassimi is 12th, with the returning Evgeny Novikov 16th and the last WRC runner after the retirements of P-G Andersson with a mechanical problem and Michal Kosciuszko who withdrew after jarring his back on SS3.
Robert Kubica continues to lead the WRC 2 category after the second leg of ADAC Rallye Deutschland but the Pole has been unable to shake off Elfyn Evans. Kubica holds a 12.4sec advantage in his Citroen DS3 RRC over Evans’ Ford Fiesta R5 and the two frontrunners have built a sizeable gap over Sepp Wiegand’s Skoda Fabia S2000 in third.