Thierry Neuville's hopes of beating Toyota's Ott Tanak to Rally Germany victory and the World Rally Championship title were dealt a major blow by a puncture on the Panzerplatte stage.
A number of drivers suffered punctures on the stage during the pre-event recce, which crews use to make pace notes, but Neuville was the only leading driver to fall foul in the event proper when his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC suffered a deflated cover in the first half of the stage.
The Belgian driver, who started the event 25 points behind Ott Tanak in the WRC drivers' standings, had trailed Toyota driver Tanak by 5.6 seconds before the Panzerplatte test.
Tanak now holds a lead of 42.6s, with his Toyota team-mates Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala occupying the remaining podium positions.
Neuville is 1m32.4s behind in seventh, having lost 1m26.8s on the stage as a result of the problem - with punctures usually costing drivers around three minutes.
"We had a puncture on the rear left," Neuville told WRC All Live. "It's a lottery and we were really unlucky.
"I was in the middle of the road, I don't know where that came from.
"The rally is not over, let's see what the guys will do towards the end of the rally. For us, we can just try to finish."
Tanak's nearest non-Toyota rival is six-time WRC champion Sebastien Ogier in fourth, who is 45.7s down and lost places to Meeke and Latvala during the Panzerplatte stage.
A re-run of the mammoth 26.08-mile stage will run this evening after the Arena Panzerplatte test, which is 6.67 miles in distance.
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