Sébastien Ogier has stretched his RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada Rally de España lead to almost double figures with a clinical performance on a shortened loop this morning.
The eight-time world champion, who ended Friday’s opening leg just 4.8s clear of Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT team-mate Kalle Rovanperä, extended his advantage with an impressive drive on the smooth and flowing roads in the Costa Daurada hills.
At the midday service halt in Salou, the Frenchman’s advantage stands at 9.7s over team-mate Kalle Rovanperä with Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team’s Thierry Neuville in third position, 4.5s further back.
Neuville won today’s opener at Savallà before Ogier settled back into stage-winning form on the very next test alongside co-driver Benjamin Veillas.
Ogier, most importantly, took time out of fellow Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 driver Rovanperä on both runs and, following the cancellation of El Montmell after Gus Greensmith crashed into a barrier, arrived back to service 9.7s in the clear.
World champion Rovanperä was hesitant to push any harder for fear of breaking his already comfortable rhythm. Ogier was also in his happy place, enjoying dry conditions and a clean road. “It’s great,” he smiled. “I think so far the car is working well and I am enjoying it. I am not yet at the absolute maximum, but we have to carry on like this.”
It was a positive morning for Neuville. He, too, outpaced Rovanperä on both stages and moved to within 4.5s of the young Finn at the day’s midpoint. The Belgian was not completely satisfied, however, feeling there was still room for improvement with the set-up of his Hyundai i20 N Rally1.
“We are still working a bit on the car,” Neuville explained. “When the road gets dirty I start to lose the feeling in the car and I don’t know the limits. I feel there is more performance to come if we can find the right settings.”
Ott Tänak has begun to lose touch with his Hyundai colleague but still holds onto fourth, albeit 13.0s further back. He ended the loop 39.0s ahead of fellow i20 N driver Dani Sordo, who was frustrated to be so far off the pace.
Sordo has finished on the podium on the last five rounds he has contested, but the Spaniard just couldn’t seem to hook things up on his country’s roads and now has just 3.0s in hand over sixth-placed Toyota driver Elfyn Evans.
“I don’t like excuses,” he insisted at the end of SS10. “There are no problems with the car. I am just trying to go fast but the times are not very good.”
The positions of Craig Breen and Takamoto Katsuta have remained unchanged in seventh and eighth overall respectively, while M-Sport Ford Puma-powered youngsters Adrien Fourmaux and Pierre-Louis Loubet complete the top 10.
Loubet, who was handed a 10s penalty overnight for cutting a chicane, moved into the top 10 at Greensmith’s expense when the Briton retired following a heavy impact with an Armco barrier. Greensmith and co-driver Jonas Andersson were both uninjured.
Hyundai Motorsport N’s Teemu Suninen leads the FIA WRC2 order by 25.6s followed by Nikolay Gryazin (Toksport Škoda) and Yohan Rossel (PH Sport Citroën) with title contender Emil Lindholm in fourth. Gryazin is the top WRC2 Junior contender, while Armin Kremer is 29.8s ahead of Mauro Miele in WRC2 Masters.
Jan Černý is a mere 0.5s ahead of fellow Ford Fiesta Rally3 driver Lauri Joona in FIA WRC3. Emmanuel Guigou’s FIA RGT Cup lead stands at almost four minutes in his Alpine A110.
RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada Rally de España resumes with the repeat of the Savallà stage from 14h14 CET. The day-closing Salou superspecial is due to get underway at 18h40.
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