SS5: Içmeler 2, 24.85km
Several asphalt sections interrupt the gravel in Içmeler, which is one of the rally’s faster stages. There is a lot of gravel on the surface which will clean to expose the bedrock beneath and provide a tough test for tyres in the second pass. It is quick most of the way until the final kilometres which are twisty and uphill. The opening 5.90km are new for 2019 and feature narrow roads and hairpins.
Fifth fastest time for the Finn through the repeated 24.85km Içmeler special stage was sufficient for him to increase his lead over Andreas Mikkelsen to 12.4sec. The morning pass left even more rocks littering the dirt roads and Lappi breathed a sigh relief at the finish.
“I’ve never seen this kind of stage. I had at least 15 huge hits on the car. I don’t know if I have punctures because my display isn’t showing any pressures, but we’re here. We need to be cautious all the time, but even then you can’t ignore the rocks,” said the Citroën C3 driver.
Mikkelsen, driving a Hyundai i20, ceded 3.4sec to his rival but in worse trouble was Jari-Matti Latvala, who plunged from third to eighth after a front right puncture on his Toyota Yaris cost almost a minute.
“First we had a problem with the boot. I don’t know if it was open or not because there was so much noise in the car so I struggled to hear the notes. Then we hit a rock in a corner,” explained the Finn.
Latvala’s woes promoted Sébastien Ogier into third in another C3. Third fastest for the Frenchman meant he trailed Mikkelsen by only a tenth.
Fastest time for Kris Meeke, despite a stall at a hairpin early in the stage, boosted the Briton to sixth. He was 1.5sec behind championship leader Ott Tänak.
Tyre choice was the big talking point before the test. With forecasts of rain in the day’s final stage, several drivers opted for a mix of Michelin’s hard and medium compound rubber to cover the possibility of wet and muddy roads. Others favoured hard rubber all round, the logical choice for hot and dry conditions.