The Final WRC Round 13 RACC Rallye Spain 08 - 11 Nov
Based on Spainís Costa Daurada in the countryís Tarragona region, the event is always one of the highlights of the WRC season and its inclusion as the final round in 2012 will doubtless increase the number of fans who travel to the popular seaside tourist town of Salou to enjoy the party atmosphere and visit the permanent service park at the PortAventura theme park.
While the opening day in Spain last season was in theory a gravel-only leg, just one repeated stage took place entirely on gravel with two repeated stages using a mixture of gravel and asphalt as a means of increasing the challenge for the drivers and raising the spectacle for the many spectators following the action.
But itís the sweeping race circuit-style asphalt roads that characterise this event that will once again dominate the competitive route. To be quick, drivers must maximise their pace through the high-speed turns by taking the optimum line at all times.
As well as hosting the last round of the 2012 world championship season RallyRACC-Rally de Espana will host the WRCís three support championships.
Citroen's Sebastien Loeb was fastest this morning in the qualifying stage for Rally de Espana, the final round in the 2012 World Rally Championship.
Loeb completed the 2.94 kilometre Emprius de Salou test in 2 minutes 6.100 seconds, which put him 0.1 seconds up on Evgeny Novikov's DMACK tyres-shod Ford Fiesta RS WRC car. Loeb will now get first choice of start position for Friday's opening day, which includes two different tests on gravel and one mixed surface stage, Terra Alta - all will be run twice.
Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile was third quickest in the sister works Citroen DS3 WRC car, 0.2 seconds further back, while the Fords of Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg came in fourth and fifth respectively.
“I thought I was setting a good time, but in the end, as always, Loeb was the fastest!” Hirvonen lamented.
“I made a mistake and the back tyre slid out,” Latvala conceded, “but it was nothing important.”
“I had a problem in a corner [too],” Solberg added, "as I could not use first gear.”
Behind, Thierry Neuville rounded out the top six in his Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC, followed by local star, Dani Sordo, Ott Tanak, Mads Ostberg and Martin Prokop in positions 7 through to 10.
“I made a couple of mistakes, but with such a short stage that meant I lost quite a lot of time,” Sordo said.
Drivers will now select their start positions in a few hours time.
Rally de Espana then gets underway 'proper' on Friday, with SS1, the 7 km Gandesa 1 test, due to start at 07.45 hours local time (06.45 hours UK time).
1. Sebastien Loeb --- Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC -- 2m 06.100s M
2. Evgeny Novikov --- Ford Fiesta RS WRC -- +0.100s
3. Mikko Hirvonen --- Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC -- +0.300s M
4. Jari-Matti Latvala --- Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC -- +0.500s M
5. Petter Solberg --- Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC -- +0.800s M
6. Thierry Neuville --- Citroen Junior WRT Citroen DS3 WRC -- +1.300s
7. Dani Sordo --- Prodrive WRC Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC -- +1.400s
8. Ott Tanak --- M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC -- +1.500s M
9. Mads Ostberg Adapta WRT --- Fiesta RS WRC -- +1.600s M
10. Martin Prokop --- Czech Ford National Team Fiesta RS WRC -- +3.400s
11. Han Weijs --- Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC -- +3.500s M
12. Jarkko Nikara --- Prodrive WRC Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC -- +4.200s
13. Chris Atkinson --- WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC -- +4.500s
14. Daniel Oliveira --- Brazil WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC -- +5.100s M
15. Abdulaziz Alkuwari --- Seashore Qatar WRT MINI John Cooper Works WRC -- +9.500s
16. John Powell --- M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC -- +12.300s M
17. Paulo Nobre --- WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC -- +15.000s
Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has decided to start 14th in the order on the opening day of Rally de Espana.
Loeb got first pick of position after topping the times this morning in the qualifying stage. The Frenchman opted to run as far back as possible so as to avoid having to 'swept the road', as most of the stages on the opening day are on gravel, with the exception of the long 44.02 km Terra Alta test, which is a mixed surface stage.
Evgeny Novikov, who was second quickest in the QS, followed Loeb's lead, and will run 13th in the order, with Mikko Hirvonen 12th and the Fords of Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg 11th and 10th.
Chris Atkinson will run first in his WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC car.
Rally de Espana: Day 1 (Friday) running order:
1. Chris Atkinson WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC
2. Daniel Oliveira Brazil WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC M
3. Jarkko Nikara Prodrive WRC Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC
4. Han Weijs Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC M
5. Martin Prokop Czech Ford National Team Fiesta RS WRC
6. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC M
7. Mads Ostberg Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC M
8. Dani Sordo Prodrive WRC Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC
9. Thierry Neuville Citroen Junior WRT Citroen DS3 WRC
10. Petter Solberg Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC M
11. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC M
12. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC M
13. Evgeny Novikov Ford Fiesta RS WRC
14. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC M
Jari-Matti Latvala began his final rally with Ford in style by setting the pace on the wet first stage of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana.
In increasingly damp conditions, Latvala ran hard tyres on the front and softs on the rear as he set a time of 4m40.5s.
That was half a second faster than an impressed Sebastien Loeb, who ran the more appropriate soft tyres all round and had plenty of respect for Latvala's time.
Loeb's Citroen team-mate Mikko Hirvonen drove tentatively after an early scare, but was still within 1.7s of the lead.
Petter Solberg was fourth quickest, while just one tenth of a second covered Ott Tanak, Thierry Neuville and Mads Ostberg in fifth through seventh places. Ostberg coped well with running four hard tyres.
Jarkko Nikara upstaged Prodrive MINI team-mate Dani Sordo on their first stage together, pipping the Spaniard - who made a small mistake - by 1.2s.
Martin Prokop completes the early top 10 despite stalling at the stage start.
Sardinia runner-up Evgeny Novikov began his rally with a muted 13th fastest, while Citroen debutant Hans Weijs had a quick spin.
Ott Tanak emerged in a sensational RallyRACC-Rally de Espana lead as increasingly heavy rain hampered the usual frontrunners on stage two, Pesells.
The young Estonian is just one tenth of a second ahead of Mads Ostberg, while Mikko Hirvonen, Sebastien Loeb and Jari-Matti Latvala have fallen to third, fourth and fifth.
They fared better than Petter Solberg and Thierry Neuville, both of whom damaged their cars and had to stop.
Tanak was none too impressed with his pace when he completed the stage, but with the weather getting ever worse, those early in the running order had a slightly less treacherous conditions than the big names.
The M-Sport Ford driver and Adapta Ford's Ostberg set identical times, and found themselves at the head of the order - despite Ostberg struggling with unsuitable hard tyres.
Hirvonen is now 14.4s behind Tanak and Ostberg in the leading Citroen.
"There's so much standing water that sometimes even in a straight line you have a massive slide," Hirvonen reported.
His team-mate Loeb had even worse weather to cope with and is 7s further back.
"I think we had the right tyre choice for the morning, but the road position is really bad," said Loeb, who chose what should have been the prime spot in 14th on the road after heading qualifying.
"We had heavy rain, big ruts and a lot of water. I cannot drive on the line at all."
Latvala was further compromised by a spin, leaving him another 7s down on Loeb.
The Finn reported that both his Ford team-mate Petter Solberg and Citroen Junior driver Thierry Neuville appeared to have hit a rock and damaged their cars. Both seem to be out of Friday's action already.
Dani Sordo and Jarkko Nikara are sixth and eighth in the Prodrive MINIs, but Nikara is set to gain a position immediately as seventh-placed Martin Prokop crashed his Ford as he crossed the stage two flying finish.
Mads Ostberg inched ahead of Ott Tanak in their battle for the RallyRACC-Rally de Espana lead at the end of the mammoth 44-kilometre Terra Alta stage.
The two satellite Ford drivers stayed clear of their factory competition even as weather conditions improved slightly on the final stage of the morning loop.
Ostberg spun on the stage, but recovered his composure in time to pull 2.7s clear of Tanak at the front of the field.
The works Citroens started stretching their legs again as the rain eased, but despite Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen being first and second fastest on the lengthy stage, they did not take a great deal out of Ostberg and Tanak's advantage.
Hirvonen is 13s off the lead, and 6s ahead of Loeb.
The Citroens fared much better than the remaining factory Ford. Jari-Matti Latvala decided not to receive rivals' split times and was too cautious. He lost a lot of time and is now nearly one minute from the lead.
Jarkko Nikara's superb debut for the Prodrive MINI team continued as he moved to within 14s of Latvala in sixth place, while keeping Evgeny Novikov's Autotek Ford five seconds behind.
Nikara is now Prodrive's hope for a good result, as his team-mate Dani Sordo got stuck off the road on stage three.
Ford's underdogs starred on a rain-lashed opening morning of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana, with Mads Ostberg holding a narrow lead over Ott Tanak after the first loop.
Increasingly heavy rain caused a litany of incidents and proved particularly troublesome to the regular rally winners, most of whom were running late in the start order and therefore hit the worst of the stage conditions on the sodden stage two in particular.
While the factory Citroens and Fords floundered, M-Sport Ford man Tanak and his Adapta counterpart Ostberg burst to the front.
Tanak held a tiny 0.1s lead after stage two, with Ostberg then edging into a 2.7s advantage by the end of stage three.
Neither had a totally straightforward morning either: Tanak overshot a braking point and slid off briefly on stage one, and Ostberg had a spin on stage three, and coped with running unsuitable hard tyres throughout the loop.
Citroen managed to salvage third and fourth from the morning, and by stage three its works cars were setting the pace again.
Mikko Hirvonen and Sebastien Loeb are currently 13s and 19s respectively behind Ostberg and poised for a comeback charge.
But the factory Ford team's hopes of winning its final rally in its current incarnation look remote already.
Jari-Matti Latvala led after stage one, then struggled a lot with the slippery conditions and took things too carefully on stage three.
He is now 55s off the lead, but still in better shape than team-mate Petter Solberg, who hit a rock on stage two and had to retire.
Ironically the same obstacle was Solberg's undoing in Spain in 2011 - and this year it also caught out Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen.
....Chris Atkinson has had a troubled morning in eighth, with Citroen newcomer Hans Weijs ninth and SWRC leader Craig Breen 10th. Breen's title rival PG Andersson led the class until losing a minute with a differential issue.
Yeray Lemes is just 2s ahead of Marcos Ligato in a tight PWRC battle.
Evgeny Novikov revelled in the muddy conditions of stage four and set the fastest time for himself and the DMACK tyres, as Mads Ostberg stormed into a 26-second lead on the RallyRACC-Rally de Espana.
Although the torrential rain in Spain has stopped, the stages remain very slippery from the morning loop. That didn't suit the Citroens, but proved profitable for Ford men Novikov, Jari-Matti Latvala and Ostberg.
Novikov was quickest by 1.1s over Latvala, bringing his DMACK-shod Ford up to sixth overall. The Russian said he knew the wet stages would be his best chance to impress.
"It was a quite tricky and slippery stage, and I feel comfortable in those conditions, so I tried to attack," said Novikov.
Latvala remains fifth, but was relieved to at least be matching the lead pace after losing so much time on the first loop.
"I'm honestly trying to push," said the Ford World Rally Team driver. "The first 15 kilometres of the stage was fine, but after that it was really muddy and it was difficult to get the rhythm."
Ostberg's third-fastest time allowed him to extend his outright lead over Ott Tanak, who took things more cautiously, to 26s.
Tanak might have lost second place to Mikko Hirvonen, had the Citroen man not taken a trip off the road that left him 4s shy of Tanak at the end of the stage.
"We lost six or seven seconds at the end," said Hirvonen. "We went off on a corner, straight off the road into the bushes and then we had to reverse."
There were no such dramas for Hirvonen's team-mate Sebastien Loeb, yet he was still 17.6s off the fastest stage time and is now 35.5s away from the lead in fourth.
"I'm just trying to do what I can in the mud. I'm really trying hard. We cannot match the Fords," Loeb insisted.
Sebastien Loeb began his pursuit of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana leader Mads Ostberg with a storming stage win on the 44-kilometre Terra Alta test.
Loeb had been a muted presence so far in his final event as a full-time World Rally Championship contender, drifting to 35s off the lead in fourth place amid the horrible stage conditions that Friday initially delivered.
But as the weather improved a little by mid-afternoon, Loeb raised his game and delivered his and Citroen's first stage victory of the weekend.
That brought him up from fourth to second, and cut Ostberg's overall lead to 25s.
"I tried really hard. In this one it was a bit better," said Loeb. "I think in the previous stage it was getting muddy after the passes of the cars. Finally in this one I had a good drive."
Loeb's Citroen team-mate Mikko Hirvonen lacked the confidence to take those risks and was a full 45s slower. That dropped him behind Jari-Matti Latvala to fourth in the overall standings.
There was plenty of drama in the battle for the rest of the top 10 spots too.
Ott Tanak was similar concerns to Hirvonen and tumbled from second to fifth overall.
Stage four winner Evgeny Novikov slid into a ditch, forcing him to retire, while Chris Atkinson parked his MINI with differential damage.
Fellow MINI man Jarkko Nikara was also in trouble, stopping to change and puncture and then grappling with a jack issue.
That means he is now back in seventh place, behind World Rally Car debutant Hans Wiejs in Nasser Al-Attiyah's usual Citroen.
Mikko Hirvonen brought a wild day of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana to an encouraging close by going fastest on the Salou superspecial.
The Citroen driver had dropped 45 seconds on the preceding Terra Alta stage, but kept himself in the podium hunting by winning the day-closing test.
"It's been quite up and down. The last long stage was really, really bad," Hirvonen admitted.
His team-mate Sebastien Loeb might have hoped to take more time out of rally leader Mads Ostberg on Salou, but was frustrated when it began raining during the four-minute gap before he took the start.
That meant he actually lost 2.1s to Mads Ostberg and 5.1s to Hirvonen, leaving his deficit to the Norwegian in the overall standings at 27.2s heading into Saturday.
Jari-Matti Latvala completes the current top three, 19.8s behind Loeb and 15.6s ahead of Hirvonen.
Having lost ground with his brake problems earlier in the afternoon, Ott Tanak was back on the pace on the superspecial, going second quickest and remaining within 8s of Hirvonen in fifth place.
At the end of a day of chaos, there were no more dramas on Salou, but there was one pre-stage, with Sebastien Ogier - who was poised to move into sixth overall - stopping his Volkswagen Motorsport Skoda Fabia on the road section after Terra Alta.
Trinidad and Tobago's John Powell is making his FIA World Rally Championship debut on RallyRACC-Rally de Espana this week. After a tough start to the mixed-surface event, Powell admitted it's not been easy in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
“Wow! I don’t know what to say,” said Powell at the PortAventura service park earlier today. “It looks easy on TV but it’s definitely not. It was very challenging. The first stage was horrific. I couldn’t find the wipers, I couldn’t find the heated windscreen and we went off slightly so I have to apologise to M-Sport for that.
“The second stage we got into it a little bit better but we just saw a lot of cars scattered all over the stage but the third stage was the most difficult stage of my life. I will not be embarrassed to tell you I had to stop for about 30 seconds. It felt like an eternity. I was just out of breath on the Tarmac stages. I just could not go any further.
“On the gravel I was okay but on the Tarmac I had to stop. It’s so demanding on you, physically and mentally. Also we went into a cloud of fog and we couldn’t see anything. I was disorientated and stopped for a few seconds, which seemed the safest thing to do to get my bearings before going again.
“I had to shake Sebastien Loeb’s hand a while ago. I told him this thing looks so easy on TV but to actually do it is really, really difficult. He said it was difficult for him as well but I don’t believe him somehow.
“I have absolutely no regrets about doing this. I just didn’t expect it to be what it is. It’s really demanding on you, it’s a different level and really is Cool Runnings comes to the WRC.”
Powell has not been able to contest this afternoon’s stages due to illness. He plans to rest before restarting under Rally 2 rules on Saturday morning.
Mads Ostberg managed to reach the end of a thrilling day one of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana with a 27-second cushion over the field, as Sebastien Loeb moved himself to the head of the queue of pursuers.
Loeb had appeared content to tread carefully through the extremely wet and muddy opening stages of the event.
But when conditions became a little more palatable on the second run through the 44 kilometres of Terra Alta, Loeb dug deeper and produced a stage win that thrust him from fourth to second, 25s down on Ostberg.
Before that, the Adapta Ford driver had been extending his lead, storming through the afternoon's first stage as his morning combatant Ott Tanak began to drop back.
Loeb might have expected to trim a little more from Ostberg's cushion on the mostly asphalt Salou superspecial that brought leg one to a close, but instead he lost two seconds as rain began to fall before he took the start.
Given Loeb's illustrious asphalt record, Ostberg's chances of hanging on to the lead for the rest of the weekend appear remote.
Ostberg conceded that the 49s margin he holds over third-placed Jari-Matti Latvala was his main focus, yet wouldn't completely dismiss his chances of defeating Loeb.
"It's been extremely difficult today. But we seemed to cope with extremely difficult conditions very well," said Ostberg.
"I'm very happy with the day and I'm looking forward to doing some racing tomorrow.
"There are two more long days and if everything is perfect it is even possible to keep Loeb behind. But I reckon it will be hard to do two perfect days on tarmac."
Latvala moved into third as Mikko Hirvonen and Tanak fell back. A wild moment on Terra Alta cost Hirvonen, who rebounded by winning Salou, while Tanak was partly cautious and partly plagued by brake problems following a huge spin.
Evgeny Novikov gave DMACK a superb stage win on Pesells, only to then put his Autotek-run Ford into a ditch on the following Terra Alta stage.
Craig Breen is on course for winning his second FIA title in as many years by completing day one of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana with a commanding lead in the Super 2000 World Rally Championship division.
Breen had trailed title rival P-G Andersson after Friday’s opening two stages but moved on top when a broken driveshaft slowed Andersson’s PROTON Satria Neo. Andersson attempted to make up the lost time in the afternoon with a charging display in the increasingly treacherous conditions only to go off twice on stage five, leaving Breen with an overnight margin of 3m41.5s.
“Today was just incredibly difficult, the hardest conditions I’ve ever driven in, so I’m very relieved to be here,” said Irishman Breen, who pilots a Ford Fiesta. “The conditions were changing at every corner and it’s impossible to try and push in those kind of conditions. I love the stages tomorrow, I grew up driving on Tarmac but hopefully the weather will be a kinder to us.”
Andersson, the double Junior world champion, said: “I was just oversteering and I never managed to get it back on a corner. I spun around and clipped a rock and it took the wheels out. I kept on going but the same thing happened. The car was drivable but it was not nice to drive in those muddy conditions when the car wanted to go everywhere else. I had a proper go but it didn’t work, that’s it.”
Yazeed Al-Rajhi’s outside title hopes were thwarted when the Saudi went off the road on stage five with Poland’s Maciej Oleksowicz taking advantage of Al-Rajhi’s misfortune to move into third in his Fiesta.
Hayden Paddon was another driver to falter in the tricky driving conditions when the New Zealander got stuck five kilometres into stage three and was forced to retire. “The conditions were very tricky today with a lot of rain making the roads like a skating rink in places,” explained Paddon.
Former category regular Albert Llovera returned as a wildcard entrant but was forced to retire on stage five. Alastair Fisher, making his debut for the factory PROTON team, also failed to make it through the fifth test.
Marcos Ligato leads the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship section of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana at the overnight halt in Salou but a mistake on the day-closing stage through the streets of the host town could prove decisive in his title bid.
Ligato, in a Subaru Impreza, heads Spanish wildcard Yeray Lemes by 11.1s starting day two but his advantage could have been higher had it not been for a mistake on the two-kilometre course, which cost him 10 seconds.
“It’s been very difficult day,” admitted Ligato, who needs to win to stand any chance of overhauling current championship leader Benito Guerra. “It had been raining so there was a lot of water in the lines and the car jumped all over the place. I couldn’t see very well but we took care of the car and took no risks. We were losing time, but so was everyone in these types of road conditions. The car had a good set-up and my experience helps but we made a mistake on the last stage when we overshoot a corner and had to reverse.”
However, even if Ligato wins Guerra will pip him to the title by a single point providing he maintains his current fourth place. “The road surface today made it very difficult,” said Guerra. “It’s just like driving on snow and ice so I tried to keep my car in the road. Tomorrow I need to attack on the Tarmac to make it into the top three.”
Guerra’s team-mate Michal Kosciuszko, one of six title contenders in action in Spain, is also planning a full attack on the all-asphalt days two and three as he bids to climb the leaderboard. The Pole is third in class, 49.1s behind Lemes, who lost precious time this afternoon with a turbo issue.
Peruvian Nicolas Fuchs turned mechanic when his Impreza’s gearshift broke on stage five. He managed to fashion repairs in order to maintain fifth overall, one place ahead of Ukraine’s Valeriy Gorban, who was slowed by a bent suspension arm this morning and an off-road moment this afternoon. Subhan Aksa is seventh, one place ahead of Lorenzo Bertelli.
Jose Suarez might hold top spot in FIA WRC Academy following the opening rain-hit day of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana but it was Pontus Tidemand who shone brighter still by going fastest in class on five out of six stages.
Tidemand, from Sweden, was leading by almost half a minute when a puncture dropped him back on stage five, handing the advantage to local hero Jose Suarez who, like Tidemand, is chasing his first victory in the young driver-training category.
“I am both happy and sad right now,” said Tidemand. “To win five out of six stages was fantastic, but then to lose three minutes with a puncture was such a big disappointment. But we are still in second place, which is good. Jose is over a minute ahead of us now so I think he will be hard to beat tomorrow, but we will try.”
Suarez, who starts the all-asphalt final day with a lead of 1m09.6s, said: “I am very happy with this position, but I am not about to lose my head. Tomorrow is a long day and anything can happen. I am really looking forward to setting some good times on Tarmac, but the main thing will be to make sure that we keep this position.”
After clinching the WRC Academy title on the previous round in France, Elfyn Evans is in third place alongside new co-driver Seb Marshall: “It has been a difficult start. It is a relatively new partnership with myself and Seb so it took us a while to settle into a grove. Unfortunately we also had a puncture on stage three so we found ourselves quite a bit behind.”
Brendan Reeves, who is in a battle with Suarez for the runner-up spot in the final title standings, is fourth endured a tough third stage when he picked up a puncture striking some concrete. He lost more time when, after rejoining, he got stuck behind Suarez for 10 kilometres.
Fredrik Ahlin is fifth despite getting stuck on stage three and being slowed in heavy rain on stage four. John MacCrone and Timo van der Marel both went off on stage five and got stuck. Both drivers hope to restart under Rally 2 rules on Saturday. Polish newcomer Aron Domzala is in eighth position.
Jari-Matti Latvala has flown to his second stage win of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana with a storming time through Saturday’s opener, La Mussara, beating asphalt master Sebastien Loeb in the process.
Driving a Ford Fiesta RS WRC, Latvala was 7.1s quicker than nine-time world champion Loeb, who has won in Spain on seven previous occasions for Citroen. “It’s a good start, the car is working really well,” said Latvala. “I’m surprised Sebastien was not flying on this stage but you never know, there is always something coming from him.”
Loeb said he wasn’t entirely happy with the handling of his DS3 WRC. “It was too hard for this condition, it should get dry later. I couldn’t trust the rear of the car, it was sliding and nervous and I didn’t want to take big risks.”
Nevertheless, the French legend has trimmed Mads Ostberg’s overall lead to 24.9s after what he described as a “careful” run in the cool and slightly damp conditions.
There was frustration for Spanish hero Dani Sordo, whose MINI John Cooper Works WRC dropped onto three cylinders midway through the stage. “I made a mistake yesterday so this can happen,” said Sordo. “It’s life and I will try to do something now. It’s frustrating because my time was very good until then.”
Thierry Neuville, back in action following his exit on Friday morning, reported a loss of brakes on his Citroen, while Ott Tanak said he found it difficult to get into the right rhythm at the stage start. Meanwhile, Evgeny Novikov said his car’s brakes lost performance with eight kilometres left to run.
Sebastien Loeb has responded to Jari-Matti Latvala’s threat by winning Saturday’s second stage to take the overall lead of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana after Mads Ostberg dropped time going off the road 9.3 kilometres into the test.
Loeb was 1m06.2s quicker than Ostberg and 3.6s faster than Latvala, which hands him a lead of 16.3s over new second placed driver Latvala. Ostberg slips to third, 41.3s off top spot.
“Jari was pushing very hard in the first one so we had to react in this one,” said Citroen’s nine-time world rally champion Loeb. “I’ve pushed on the limit from the start to the end and I’m happy with my driving. For sure it’s a really tough fight.”
Despite losing only a handful of seconds on the 45.97-kilometre stage, held in damp conditions, Ford driver Latvala said he wasn’t happy with his performance. “I’m disappointed. I managed to be very good with him but at the end I started to lose time to him. I don’t know what happened but I made some mistakes and I need to get those away for the next time. The tyres started to move a bit and I started to hesitate.”
Ford privateer Ostberg said: “We had some information that the stage was 50 per cent dry, we put some hard tyres on, but for sure it was not. We went off quite early and lost 40s or something. We continued but hit a barrier later on. It was very difficult and I’m very disappointed.”
Sebastien Loeb made light of the tricky stage conditions to extend his lead of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana.
With the stage using the asphalt sections that featured on Terra Alta on day one, Citroen ace Loeb was one of several drivers to report a build up of mud and gravel on the road. With overnight rain also leaving the stage surface damp in some sections, Loeb admitted it had been a tricky run.
“It’s tricky because the stage was run in the opposite direction from yesterday,” said Loeb, who was 2.6s quicker than Ford rival Jari-Matti Latvala. “I try to be clean but it was still muddy and tricky. I have to push hard because Jari-Matti is pushing hard.”
Latvala, who is running third on the road, now trails Loeb by 18.9s. He said: “He’s going fast. I like this stage but the problem for me is it’s wet and the boys have been cutting and taking stuff onto the road. I felt it was understeering a lot.”
Overnight leader Mads Ostberg was 6.6s slower than Loeb. He is now 47.9s behind Loeb in third in the overall classification heading to service in Salou.
Spanish MINI driver Dani Sordo continues to be hobbled by the power glitch that struck on today’s first stage. “We still have the engine problem but we hope to find a solution in service,” he said.
There was drama in the Production Car World Rally Championship on stage eight when the top drivers overnight, Marcos Ligato and Yeray Lemes, both hit trouble with Ligato reporting a loss of brakes and Lemes being slowed by a transmission fault. Their misfortune means title leader Benito Guerra is now in front heading to stage nine.
Sebastien Loeb underlined his status as the FIA World Rally Championship's most successful driver by turning an overnight deficit of 27.2s into an advantage of 18.9s at the midday halt in Salou.
Loeb, who is chasing an eighth victory on RallyRACC-Rally de Espana, was trailing Mads Ostberg in the overall classification when the Norwegian went off the road less than 10 kilometres into Saturday’s second test, which featured some damp sections.
Jari-Matti Latvala also profited from Ostberg’s rare error to take second. The Finn is now 18.9s behind Frenchman Loeb with Ostberg 47.9s adrift of Loeb in third. “I’m having to push because Jari-Matti is pushing hard,” said factory Citroen driver Loeb, who has gone quickest on two out of the three all-asphalt stages this morning.
Latvala began day two with a rapid time through the first La Mussara stage but wasn’t happy with his efforts through the next run, the gruelling 45.97-kilometre El Priorat test. Like several rival drivers he encountered a build up of mud and gravel dragged onto the road on stage nine, which he completed 2.6s slower than Loeb.
Behind Ostberg, who lost more time on stage eight striking an Armco barrier, Mikko Hirvonen is fourth overall in the second works Citroen with Ott Tanak fifth and Hans Weijs sixth on his debut in a Qatar World Rally Team Citroen after overcoming an overshoot at a hairpin on stage seven.
Dani Sordo’s efforts to make up lost time following his exit on Friday morning have been hampered by a power glitch in his MINI. Thierry Neuville, who also restarted under Rally 2 rules, reported brake issues. Meanwhile, John Powell made it through stage seven but withdrew shortly afterwards suffering from an inner ear infection.
Craig Breen continues to hold a comfortable advantage over P-G Andersson in the Super 2000 World Rally Championship. But there has been high drama in the Production Car World Rally Championship with overnight leader Marcos Ligato dropping back with a brake glitch on stage eight, where second-place Yeray Lemes was slowed by a transmission problem.
Michal Koscisuzko, one of six PWRC title contenders prior to the start, went off the road in a long left-hand corner on stage nine, leaving team-mate and title leader Benito Guerra in the clear. Local hero Jose Suarez was on top in the WRC Academy after stage eight.
Mads Ostberg has a new rival in his bid to finish third in the final FIA World Rally Championship standings after Mikko Hirvonen edged closer to the Norwegian on the second run through La Mussara.
Hirvonen, in a Citroen DS3 WRC, was 2.5s faster than Ostberg and is now 5.5s behind in the overall standings with two stages of day two remaining.
Ostberg, who said he wasn’t quite happy with the set-up of his privateer Ford Fiesta RS WRC, needs as many points as possible in his battle with Jari-Matti Latvala for third place in the final table. He plans to respond to Hirvonen’s threat by stiffening up his car for the next run.
Out front, Sebastien Loeb has grown his overall lead on RallyRACC-Rally de Espana to 21.0s after he outpaced his rival Latvala by 2.1s. “The conditions were much better than in the morning,” said Loeb. “We have all hard tyres and I tried really hard again. The feeling was really good with the car.”
Latvala added: “When there are patches of damp and dry it is not the strongest area for me but Loeb is really good. Maybe the car is too soft but there was nothing I could do more.”
Ott Tanak impressed with the second fastest time, 1.3s down on Loeb: “If I feel comfortable in the car and everything is working then I can do it,” said Tanak.
Mikko Hirvonen has snatched third place on RallyRACC-Rally de Espana following the second run through El Priorat.
The Citroen driver was 17.6s quicker than Mads Ostberg to move 12.1s in front of the Ford privateer heading to Saturday’s final stage. “I really tried to push a little bit and find a good rhythm,” said Hirvonen. “I’m quite happy with that time.”
Ostberg, who slips to fourth overall after going 27.1s slower than event leader Sebastien Loeb, said: “The [soft] set-up is absolutely horrible and it’s not possible to drive the car. I just lose the grip everywhere when it’s drying up. I’m more sideways than straight. This is not good for the result - I guarantee we will lose a lot of time. It’s hopeless.”
Loeb, meanwhile, admitted to reducing his pace just slightly in the closing stages of the run. “I pushed really hard from the start and was too aggressive, which meant there was a little movement with the tyre at the middle. I took it a bit easy after that.”
Jari-Matti Latvala was 3.1s slower than Loeb and now trails the Frenchman in the overall classification by 24.1s. “The set-up was too soft, I needed a full dry set-up but unfortunately I didn’t have it,” said Latvala. “The car was moving too much and I didn’t get the best confidence.”
Spaniard Dani Sordo, who was quickest of all on stage 10 in his MINI, has yet to complete the run but has recorded a number of fastest split times so far.
Ott Tanak has compounded a miserable day for Mads Ostberg by snatching fourth place from the overnight leader on Saturday’s final stage with a rapid run.
Tanak was 0.4s quicker than RallyRACC-Rally de Espana leader Sebastien Loeb and 9.2s faster than Ostberg to move 2.6s in front of the Norwegian, who is at the wheel of a similar Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
“It’s very good,” said Tanak, who is now 14.7s behind third-placed Mikko Hirvonen, in a Citroen DS3 WRC. “I was a bit cautious in the beginning but for sure I was taking some risks after that. It’s damp and dirty in some places, the car feels really good and I have a very good feeling.”
Ostberg said: “It’s been absolutely horrible for me. I have not got a clue what is happening. There must be something wrong because the car is impossible to drive.”
Hirvonen was 4.0s adrift of Tanak’s pace. He said: “It’s been a good day, slowly getting better but I always want more so I am not completely happy.”
Meanwhile, Loeb’s advantage over second-placed Jari-Matti Latvala increases to 27.0s heading to the overnight halt in Salou.