Poland WRC: Latvala leads four-way battle on Friday morning

Jari-Matti Latvala leads Rally Poland for Toyota amid a very close four-way battle in wet conditions.

Poland WRC: Latvala leads four-way battle on Friday morning
Jari-Matti Latvala, Toyota Racing
Jari-Matti Latvala, Miikka Anttila, Toyota Yaris WRC, Toyota Racing
Jari-Matti Latvala, Miikka Anttila, Toyota Yaris WRC, Toyota Racing
Jari-Matti Latvala, Miikka Anttila, Toyota Yaris WRC, Toyota Racing
Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Ford Fiesta WRC, M-Sport
Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 WRC, Hyundai Motorsport
Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Ford Fiesta WRC, M-Sport
Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 WRC, Hyundai Motorsport
Sébastien Ogier, M-Sport

For once on a gravel rally, drivers early in the running order are faring better - with the top four in the WRC clear of the rest of the pack as the sodden stages churn up more in their wake.

Points leader Sebastien Ogier briefly hit the front on the morning's opening Chmielewo stage, but Latvala then won the next two stages and established himself in first place.

Though Thierry Neuville was quickest on the Stare Juchy stage before service and moved up to second, he remains 4.5 seconds behind Latvala.

Latvala managed to maintain that lead despite one of his windscreen wipers snapping on the third stage. He got to the end of that one with minimal vision then swapped the wipers around on the road section so his side of the screen was clear for Stare Juchy.

Neuville's SS5 stage win put him half a second ahead of Ott Tanak for third overall, with Ogier now another 2.3s back to complete a lead quartet covered by 7.3s.

Esapekka Lappi had impressed again for Toyota by establishing himself in fifth place, off the lead pace but comfortably clear of the rest, until he stopped near the end of SS4. Following drivers reported suspension damage for the Yaris.

Hayden Paddon now occupies that 'best of the rest' place, albeit already 36.3s off Ogier ahead.

But Paddon's conservative approach paid off with Lappi dropping out and Dani Sordo spinning his sister Hyundai from fifth to sixth on Stare Juchy.

Toyota's Juho Hanninen has gradually fallen away from the Hyundai pair in seventh. He is carrying a 10s penalty for a jump start on Thursday night's superspecial.

Overnight leader Elfyn Evans immediately tumbled from first to 13th on the rally's first full-length stage as the DMACK tyres that had worked so well in Poland in the dry last year - when Tanak nearly won on them - proved less competitive in the wet.

He played it safe and made progress back up the order thereafter, and is now up to ninth behind Teemu Suninen, who has been promoted from M-Sport's WRC2 line-up to a World Rally Car for this event.

Citroen is already having a painful rally, with Stephane Lefebvre its best-placed runner in 10th, 1m18s behind leader Latvala.

Craig Breen meanwhile is nearly eight minutes from the front as a driveshaft problem left him in front-wheel-drive only for the whole morning.

Andreas Mikkelsen, in for the benched Kris Meeke, was optimistic about Citroen's set-up in the dry but felt it did not work at all in the wet. He was only 11th even before running wide and breaking his rear suspension on a tree stump on SS5, costing him almost two minutes.

Results after SS5:

Pos. Driver Car Time/Gap
1 FIN Jari-Matti Latvala Toyota 29m25.8s
2 BEL Thierry Neuville Hyundai +4.5s
3 EST Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford +5.0s
4 FRA Sebastien Ogier M-Sport Ford +7.3s
5 NZL Hayden Paddon Hyundai +43.6s
6 ESP Dani Sordo Hyundai +45.7s
7 FIN Juho Hanninen Toyota +1m01.1s
8 FIN Teemu Suninen M-Sport Ford +1m11.6s
9 GBR Elfyn Evans M-Sport Ford +1m17.5s
10 FRA Stephane Lefebvre Citroen +1m18.1s
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