Mikkelsen was the only driver to gamble on Michelin’s medium compound tyres on the rocky tracks and completed the loop with the rubber in good condition. “I think the middle stage made the difference, I really tried to save them on that one. I think mediums were the correct choice,” he said.
Breen, who demoted overnight leader Mikkelsen in today’s opening test, had the compliment returned in Çiçekli.
“I was just a little bit too cautious in places. I had a big impact at the start on the front left and thought I might have had a puncture but everything seems OK. This afternoon will be hard, it will be all about survival,” explained the Citroën C3 driver.
Those lower in the start order had more grip on roads swept clean of sand and stones by drivers ahead and Mads Østberg benefited to hold third. The Norwegian was 1.9sec adrift of team-mate Breen and 4.9sec clear of championship leader Thierry Neuville.
Belgian Neuville was the exception to the cleaning rule. As first on the road he had the worst of the conditions in his Hyundai i20 but nevertheless won the middle stage of the loop in Ula.
“We were helped by the dust at the start of the first stage because I had a clean run. It was a disaster to be first on the road but this last stage was the best. There were less big stones on the road but more sand,” he said.
Hayden Paddon was fifth in another i20, the Kiwi concerned about his car’s handling in Ula and fearing he had broken something at the rear. Paddon was 7.3sec behind Neuville and 2.8sec clear of Jari-Matti Latvala’s Toyota Yaris.
An oil leak almost caused Elfyn Evans to retire his Ford Fiesta
The Finn regretted an over-cautious approach and lacked grip in Çiçekli but held a slender 0.4sec advantage over Ogier’s Ford Fiesta.
Yaris duo Esapekka Lappi and Ott Tänak were eighth and ninth, both complaining of a lack of traction. “It’s skipping on the big stones and not really absorbing anything,” said Tänak.
Teemu Suninen completed the top 10 but Fiesta team-mate Elfyn Evans continued to struggle. The Welshman conceded a further two minutes due to a suspected broken differential casing that created an oil leak and initially threatened retirement.