Thierry Neuville took the lead in the Central European Rally after winning the second stage of the latest round of the World Rally Championship on Thursday evening.
With the win, Thierry Neuville now holds the lead in the Central European Rally overnight after the two opening stages of the Central European Rally in the Czech Republic on Thursday.
The first superspecial stage was dominated by Ott Tänak at a racing track close to the official start in Prague, but Neuville took the lead in SS2, finishing 1.2 seconds faster ahead of Friday’s stages.
Neuville took full advantage of the wet conditions as the fast 5.5-mile, two-lap race through Klatovy came to an end as darkness fell. His Hyundai i20 N outperformed Tänak’s Ford Puma by 2.2 seconds.
As the six asphalt stages in the Czech Republic on Friday get underway, the Hyundai driver will lead M-Sport’s Ott Tanak by 1.2 seconds.
As he had done previously, Tänak ran on four soft tyres but the Estonian was unable to maintain his lead as the rally moved into Klatovy, an 8.92-kilometer super special stage.
Tanak thought that he had trouble getting his soft tyres to heat up enough, but he was still able to beat the other competitors in the Rally1 field.
The Toyota drivers faced challenges by running wet tyres all around due to the fact they were anticipating wetter conditions.
Championship leader Kalle Rovanpera finished third on the stage, 2.9 seconds behind the fastest time. The Finn’s effort was sufficient to propel him to fourth place overall, behind eight-time world champion Toyota teammate Sebastian Ogier by a tenth of a second.
Ogier conceded that he had trouble getting “the feeling” out of his GR Yaris, which resulted in a 6.1s drop. After the recovering Hyundai of Esapekka Lappi—who received a 10-second penalty for jumping the start in stage one—the Frenchman recorded the fifth-fastest time. The finn will start Friday in ninth overall.
Teemu Suninen of Hyundai finished sixth on the stage, ahead of Takamoto Katsuta of Toyota and Pierre-Louis Loubet of M-Sport.
SS2 saw Suninen sixth fastest, 6.9s slower than teammate Neuville, despite Suninen’s first experience driving the car on damp asphalt. The Finn currently trails Rovanperä by 2.4 seconds and leads Katsuta by 1.8 seconds. Loubet is 0.3 seconds further back.
After a costly overrun at a right junction, title contender Elfyn Evans finished the stage in ninth place with a 7.8-second time loss.
Evans, who must outscore teammate Rovanpera in order to send the final championship run to a decisive round in Japan, will begin Saturday’s action 10.7 seconds behind the lead and in eighth place overall.
Grégoire Munster rounded out the Rally1 field in his second outing in the M-Sport Puma. The driver from Luxembourg lost his handbrake on SS2, putting him 1.4 seconds behind Lappi in 10th overall.
In WRC2, the second test of the day saw Yohan Rossel take the lead in his Citroën C3 Rally2. Adrien Fourmaux (Ford Fiesta), who is not scoring is 3.1 seconds behind him.
Gus Greensmith (Škoda), who faces off against Mikkelsen and Rossel for the championship title, is 5.5 seconds behind the leader and tied for fourth place with Kajetan Kajetanowicz.