Overnight leader Ogier admittedly made a “stupid mistake” after he lost his concentration in a slow corner in SS8 and skidded his car into a snow wall. The Frenchman then spent the rest of the day catching up, even winning four straight stages, ending the day over three and a half minutes adrift in ninth. He is now aiming for sixth place, a position which is a just over a minute ahead.
“I can just blame myself. I was in the perfect position to win the rally but I was not concentrating enough,” said Ogier, who had dropped to 20th after his off. “I am stupid. The most difficult day was yesterday, today I just had to drive.”
Latvala’s ten second lead after SS14 was slashed to 3.6 seconds at the end of the day in conditions that had melted most of the snow away, consequently exposing the gravel.
A consistent Mikkelsen, who has been trying to keep the pressure on without taking any risks, is en route to seal his first podium finish in the World Rally Championship.
“However, I’m a born-and-bred rally driver, and victory is within my reach,” reminded the Norwegian.
And Volkswagen clarified that it would allow its two leading drivers to scrap for the win.
“There are no team orders at Volkswagen,” said team principal Jost Capito. “They are both free to fight for the victory. Both have been outstanding and they are driving extremely sensibly and quickly at the same time.”
Citroen’s Mads Ostberg was third, 43 seconds off the pace, followed by M-Sport’s Mikko Hirvonen.
“There is a bit of a gap to Mads now, but I’m not going to let him get away so easily,” said Hirvonen referring to the 19.7 second gap to the Norwegian. “I’ll be there putting the pressure on him, that’s for sure.”
Ott Tanak struggled with the pace notes from his new co-driver Raigo Molder, who was competing in only his second WRC event, in the morning but gradually improved as the day progressed to settle in fifth.
Kris Meeke featured in sixth, a position beyond his expectations. Henning Solberg, Pontus Tidemand and Elfyn Evans rounded up the top ten.
TROUBLES FOR KUBICA, HYUNDAI
Robert Kubica is now in 29th place, 24 minutes off the pace, after he went off twice, much to the annoyance of Ostberg on both occasions.
“He was parked on the side of the road and then he just pulled out on me,” complained Ostberg about the first incident on SS12. “I had to slow down – he was going quite slowly… I got stuck behind him – not for too long, but we lost quite a lot of time.”
The second incident came on SS14.
“There were a lot of people trying to help him and maybe they couldn’t hear me coming,” reported the Norwegian. “I came over a crest and I just saw his car and the people in the road. I hoped they would move but they didn’t. It was quite close, they were realising (I was there) when I was about one metre before them. I was in fourth gear, which was quite quick. I could see them, I had control, but it was not a good feeling.”
Hirvonen too lost time behind Kubica on SS12 but was a lot more forgiving about the situation.
Hyundai had a miserable day after both its cars hit trouble. Thierry Neuville retired in SS8 with a broken front-right suspension and Juho Hanninen pulled off the front-right wheel on SS12 and ended in the snowbank. Both will now rejoin the event on the final day under Rally 2 regulations.
Saturday’s eight stages comprise 142 kilometres.
Leading positions after SS16:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Jari-Matti Latvala VW 1h48m47.6s 2. Andreas Mikkelsen VW +3.6s 3. Mads Ostberg Citroen +43.0s 4. Mikko Hirvonen M-Sport Ford +1m02.7s 5. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford +1m08.7s 6. Kris Meeke Citroen +2m31.2s 7. Henning Solberg Solberg Ford +2m47.0s 8. Pontus Tidemand M-Sport Ford +2m48.4s 9. Sebastien Ogier VW +3m38.4s 10. Elfyn Evans M-Sport Ford +3m41.8s