A dominant Saturday drive enabled Sébastien Ogier to move clear of the RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada Rally de España pack as Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT put one hand on the FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers.
The eight-time world champion, with Benjamin Veillas co-driving, is on course to claim his maiden victory of the WRC’s hybrid-powered era on only his fifth start aboard a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1.
Ogier was virtually untouchable and won four out of seven flowing asphalt stages in the Costa Daurada hills to turn a slender 4.8s overnight lead into a 20.7s advantage over Thierry Neuville with one day remaining of this penultimate round of the season.
Barring any major dramas, Ogier’s Toyota squad is almost guaranteed to seal the Manufacturers’ championship title during Sunday’s four-stage leg.
“It’s been a very enjoyable day for us,” said Ogier. “We had good fun in the car and the times were following. That’s always what you dream for when you come to a rally.
“Honestly, I have been happy with my season so far but of course it would be nice to clinch a win. Now we are in a good position but there is still a long way to go.”
Neuville moved into the runner-up spot at the final hour – pinching the position from 2022 champion Kalle Rovanperä, who dropped vital time when he selected the wrong engine map on the start line of the El Montmell stage. At the completion of leg one just 1.4s separated the pair.
It was a generally frustrating day for Neuville, however, as he fought to optimise the set-up of his Hyundai i20 N Rally1. Despite continuously making tweaks to the car the Belgian could not find the perfect balance between understeer and the rear-end breaking free.
His Estonian team-mate Ott Tänak completed Saturday’s action 15.9s behind in fourth. His day was relatively drama-free and he headed fifth-placed team-mate Dani Sordo 36.6s.
Sordo’s Saturday was one of two halves. The morning was filled with frustration as he repeatedly dropped time to the leading crews. But mid-leg set-up tweaks rejuvenated the Spaniard and he even grabbed a stage win late in the afternoon. Elfyn Evans remains in sixth overall, 14.4s down on Sordo.
Tyre management was the major talking point for Craig Breen, who held seventh overall in his M-Sport Ford Puma. The Irishman couldn’t gel with the set-up of the car, which resulted in him overheating the front tyres on several occasions. He languished 1m39.7s back from the lead but pulled clear of Takamoto Katsuta.
Adrien Fourmaux and Pierre-Louis Loubet completed the top 10 in their M-Sport Pumas. The latter broke into the top 10 at the expense of team-mate Gus Greensmith, who crashed out on the final stage of the morning loop.
Teemu Suninen is on course to win FIA WRC2 in his Hyundai Motorsport N-entered i20 N Rally2 with the Finn 26.6s ahead of PH Sport Citroën driver Yohan Rossel. Nikolay Gryazin is third for the Škoda-powered Toksport team.
Gryazin tops the WRC2 Junior division, while Armin Kremer is more than 90s in front in WRC2 Masters.
Jan Černý heads fellow Ford Fiesta Rally3 driver Lauri Joona in a thrilling battle for FIA WRC3 honours. The title rivals are just 2.5s ahead of Sunday’s championship-deciding leg.
Alpine A110 driver Emmanuel Guigou’s lead of the FIA RGT category is 4m27.0s
Sunday’s route features two passes of Pratdip (12.15 kilometres) and Riudecanyes (15.90 kilometres). The former, which runs for the first time at 07h00 CET, is extended by two kilometres from last year, while Riudecanyes is well-known for the roundabout at Coll de la Teixeta, where drivers complete a 360-degree donut in front of huge hillside crowds.
The second pass of Riudecanyes forms the Wolf Power Stage, with bonus points on offer to the fastest five crews overall, plus the three quickest drivers in WRC2. Leg three’s four stages cover 56.10 kilometres for a final competitive distance of 293.77 kilometres.