Germany is the scene for the second asphalt round of the World Rally Championship in 2019, with the event exhibiting a broad challenge from the narrow vineyards around the River Mosel, to the high speed stages in the Saarland region and the punishing bumps and ruts of the Panzerplatte.
The event got underway on Thursday evening with a single stage around on the winding roads near the service park on the St.Wendeler Land stage. Ott Tanak took victory on the opening stage, though his Toyota Yaris was missing both its wing mirrors, a sign of how hard Tanak was pushing. Tanak was tailed by Dani Sordo’s Hyundai & Sebastien Ogier’s Citroen C3.
The first full day of running was on the Friday around the Vineyards near the River Mosel & the Saarland region. Thierry Neuville, after a challenging couple of events showed blistering pace, immediately applying significant pressure to leader Tanak in his Toyota. Neuville took first blood, going fastest in the opening stages on Friday morning. This was quickly reversed as Tanak was quickest in the afternoon loop, holding a narrow lead from the chasing Neuville as Friday drew to a close.
Sebastien Ogier would finish the day in third, although Ogier was fighting with his Citroen which was suffering from excessive understeer. Ogier’s frustration was clearly showing as he stalled the Citroen during one of Friday’s stages and span off one of the stages into a field, losing him time. Dani Sordo and Kris Meeke duked it out for fourth position throughout the day, but Sordo’s strong run in fourth position came to an end as his Hyundai jammed in first gear, costing him significant amounts of time and allowing Meeke to climb into Fourth and fellow Toyota compatriot Jari-Matti Latvala into fifth. The major bad luck of the day and the only retirement would be Teemu Sunninen, the fly-by-wire system on his Ford Fiesta failing, stranding the car.
Saturday would see further running through the Saarland stages and Ott Tanak & Theirry Neuville resumed their battle at the head of the field. Both Tanak & Neuville traded fastest times in the morning leg before beginning the most punishing part of the rally, the fearsome panzerplatte. The military facility is used for testing & training in driving military vehicles, athough it is all asphalt, the is heavily rutted, bumpy with large ridges between the asphalt sections; think of it as the Sebring of rallying. There are also the heinkeilsteins lining the stages, large boulders designed to stop tanks and heavy military vehicles, colliding with one of these will almost certainly cause rally ending damage.
Shortly after entering the Panzerplette on the fearsome Baumholder stage, Thierry Neuville picked up a puncture, dropping 90 seconds an dropping out of contention for victory. Neuville’s loss was Ogier’s gain as he jumped into second place but was still struggling with an understeering Citroen, which was quickly being closed down by Kris Meeke & Jari-Matti Latvala’s Toyota’s. The final stage of the day would bare its teeth as it did on Friday evening; this time it was Ogier’s turn as he picked up a puncture on the final stage losing almost 2 minutes and allowing Meeke & Latvala to make it a Toyota 1-2-3 by the end of the day. Dani Sordo put in a stunning drive throughout Saturday to climb into fourth place, taking advantage of the misfortune of others ahead of him. Further misfortune would befall Ford as Gus Greensmith would collide with a tree and the subsequent damage costing him three minutes.
Sunday, the final day of the rally dawned with Ott Tanak firmly in command of proceedings with team mates Kris Meeke & Jari-Matti Latvala making it a Toyota 1-2-3 heading into the final day with Sordo & Neuville in their Hyundai’s fourth and fifth. As the final leg of the Rally got underway, returning to the vineyards along the banks of the River Mosel, Ott Tanak was fighting braking issues in his Toyota Yaris, the Yaris only having one front brake operational. This meant there was some interesting behaviour from the Toyota under heavy braking.
Despite the braking issues, Tanak had a commanding lead, Meeke & Latvala were running a consistent pace behind to make it a Toyota 1-2-3 and not take any chances, Toyota in this instance having their eyes on the Manufacturers championship as well as the Drivers’ Championship. Behind, team-orders reared their head as Esapekka Lappi was deliberately late into the final time check before the power stage, accruing a penalty and elevating Seb Ogier up one position to minimise the points loss for Ogier in his championship defence.
The Wolf Power stage, carrying its allotment of bonus points would see Thierry Neuville drive his heart out to take the 5 bonus points to keep his championship chances alive. The big news though was Ott Tanak making it three wins in a row and with teammates Meeke & Latvala in second and third, it was Toyota’s first clean sweep of the podium since 1993.
The next event on the WRC calender will be Rally Turkey, running from September 12th to Septmeber 15th.
WRC Rally Deutschland standings:
- Ott Tanak
- Kris Meeke
- Jari-Matti Latvala
- Dani Sordo
- Thierry Neuville
WRC Championship Standings:
- Ott Tanak – 205 points
- Thierry Neuville – 170points
- Sebastien Ogier – 163 points
- Kris Meeke – 80 points
- Elfyn Evans – 78 points