Stein und Wein 1, 19.44km
Friday’s opener is based in the vineyards near Trier, After the start in Fell, crews negotiate a winding ascent to Thomm. Both towns are famous for their wines and mining legacy, hence the stage name which translates as Stone and Wine. Along the Ruwer river, the route speeds through a valley to Waldrach before heading south to the finish. It is fast and flowing with a mix of wide main roads and narrow tracks. There are plenty of hairpins and chances for drivers to save valuable tenths by cutting corners.
Neuville stopped the clocks 1.7sec faster than Ott Tänak through the 19.44km Stein und Wein special stage to demote the Estonian, who led after last night’s short curtain-raiser. The gap between the pair was seventh-tenths in the overall standings.
“We know this rally will be a big push from the beginning to the end. I felt like the car was sliding a little bit too much and the grip was low, but it seems to be the road conditions,” said Neuville, who is driving a Hyundai i20.
Tänak was one of many to highlight the inconsistent conditions in the vineyards. “There were changing grip levels in quite a few places which was surprising. The asphalt is clean but we are not in a perfect rhythm so we’ll see where we can improve,” said the Toyota Yaris pilot.
He was 1.6sec quicker than an understeering Sébastien Ogier, who slotted into third in the standings, 3.2sec off Neuville’s pace in his Citroën C3.
Kris Meeke, Jari-Matti Latvala and Dani Sordo filled the next three places in both the stage and the overall positions. Both Latvala and Hyundai Motorsport’s Andreas Mikkelsen, who was eighth, complained of understeer.
It was a disastrous start for Teemu Suninen, the Finn parking his Ford Fiesta after 9.7km with mechanical problems, while Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta, driving a Yaris World Rally Car for the first time in the WRC, stalled in the opening hairpin.