Rally Corsica, friday: Evans leads after late fright
Ott Tänak fought hard all day with Evans
SS1: Evans leads dramatic opener
Elfyn Evans set the early pace at Corsica linea - Tour de Corse after a drama-filled opening speed test on Friday morning.
The Welshman, driving a Ford Fiesta, stopped the clocks 2.9sec quicker than Thierry Neuville through the 17.60km Bavella speed test. Neuville’s Hyundai i20 team-mate, Dani Sordo, was a further 0.2sec back in third.
Further down the order there were problems for pre-event favourite Sébastien Ogier, Kris Meeke and Sébastien Loeb as the tough asphalt roads of the Mediterranean island lived up to their fearsome reputation.
Loeb, a four-time Corsica winner, slid wide in a left-hand corner and smashed into a kerb, damaging the rear of his i20. The Frenchman and co-driver Daniel Elena worked furiously to make repairs after the finish (below) but they dropped two minutes in the stage.
“We broke one of the suspension arms at the rear, we slid wide and hit a stone. Not a big impact but it was too much. We had the spare parts to repair so it should be OK to continue,” explained Loeb.
Meeke limped to the end with a broken front left wheel rim on his Yaris i20. “I have no idea how it happened. I was just following my notes and something caught me on the inside of a corner, completely unseen,” said the Briton, who lost 50sec.
Ogier conceded more than 10sec after spinning in a right-hand hairpin, nudging the apex with his Citroën C3 at slow speed before reversing out and continuing.
The incident came just a kilometre after the Frenchman encountered cows in the road, but Ogier refused to blame the incident for his error. Road opener Ott Tänak also came across the bovine beasts in his Yaris.
“Five cows in the middle of the road. We lost a lot of time and had to stop,” explained the Estonian, who was nevertheless fourth fastest, 3.2sec off Evans’ pace.
SS2/3: Tänak edges ahead
Championship leader Ott Tänak held a narrow advantage at Corsica linea - Tour de Corse after Friday morning’s opening loop of three speed tests.
The Estonian topped the standings by 1.3sec from early leader Elfyn Evans as a tightly clustered group of four drivers blanketed by 7.6sec arrived in Porto-Vecchio after a breathless morning in the mountains in the south of the island.
After surviving a near-miss with some cows in the opening test, Tänak was second in the following Valinco special stage before rounding off the morning with fastest in Alta-Rocca.
“It was a good morning, not a very good morning but consistent,” said the Toyota Yaris pilot. “No issues but I believe my rhythm can improve. Generally the car is working well, I just need to understand these new stages.”
Evans yielded the lead to Tänak in Valinco, but third in Alta-Rocca kept the Ford Fiesta driver hot on his heels. “I didn’t have a perfect run in the middle stage and gave away a bit to Ott, but otherwise it’s been pretty equal,” he said.
The Welshman was 2.2sec ahead of Thierry Neuville, the Belgian fighting the handling of his Hyundai i20 and playing with the set-up. “The feeling is a little bit better but my pace notes are sometimes too slow sometimes too fast,” he explained.
Team-mate Dani Sordo was 4.1sec back in fourth. The Spaniard dropped behind Neuville in Alta-Rocca as his low start position meant gravel dragged onto the asphalt by those ahead made the roads dirty.
Teemu Suninen was best of the rest in fifth, the Fiesta driver 8.9sec behind Sordo and keeping his pace in check following his early exit from the previous round in Mexico.
Pace notes were a big talking point on the new stages and Jari-Matti Latvala was one of many drivers with work to do. His notes were too cautious and after losing more than 15sec in Valinco, he was sixth.
Esapekka Lappi was seventh in the top Citroën C3, despite a spin in Alta-Rocca. Team-mate Sebastien Ogier held eighth, striving to climb the order after his opening stage error. “I’ve been struggling a lot with the car. We made some changes and now it feels better,” he said.
Kris Meeke was ninth, the Briton recovering from his opening stage time loss to win Valinco and claim second in Alta-Rocca. WRC 2 leader Eric Camilli completed the leaderboard.
SS4: Evans storms back into lead
Elfyn Evans charged back to the front of Corsica linea - Tour de Corse after winning Friday afternoon’s opening speed test.
For the second time today, the Welshman was fastest through the 17.60km Bavella special stage in his Ford Fiesta. He was 2.7sec quicker than Ott Tänak to demote the Estonian from the lead by 1.4sec.
On asphalt made dirty by this morning’s pass, road opener Tänak was second fastest in his Toyota Yaris and the leading duo stretched the gap to Hyundai Motorsport team-mates Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo.
Both i20s were well down the stage classification and Tänak’s margin over Neuville widened to 7.3sec, with Sordo a further 5.8sec behind.
Fourth fastest for Sébastien Ogier promoted the Frenchman to seventh as Citroën C3 team-mate Esapekka Lappi dropped behind. Both remained far from happy.
“It’s better than this morning but still not fantastic,” said Ogier, while Lappi was a picture of despondency. “Too slow. I did a good stage, but I guess the R5s will be faster,” was the Finn’s downbeat view on the situation.
Kris Meeke was third quickest in his Yaris, but the Ulsterman still had almost 20sec to make up on eight-placed Lappi after his earlier problem.
After SS6: Evans leads after late fright
Elfyn Evans led Corsica linea - Tour de Corse on Friday night following a controversial end to the opening leg when he was baulked by another competitor.
He started the final speed test leading Ott Tänak by 4.5sec in his Ford Fiesta, but was inadvertently delayed for nearly a minute after catching a limping Kris Meeke near the end.
Evans finished nearly 11sec slower than Tänak, provisionally plunging to third and promoting the Toyota Yaris driver to first. However, officials credited Evans with the same time as the Estonian, restoring him to first with an unchanged advantage.
The pair fought tooth and nail all day on twisty asphalt in the island’s southern mountains. Evans led initially before Tänak edged ahead after the morning loop, only for the Welshman to regain his advantage this afternoon as Tänak suffered a damper problem.
“The issue in the final stage was a difficult one to call but I think the outcome was fair. It’s been a really positive day, but we have another big one tomorrow. We have to take the fight to Ott and we know that when everything is working, we can be better and faster,” said Evans.
Thierry Neuville was third, 5.3sec adrift of Tänak. He struggled with his Hyundai i20’s handling but became increasingly comfortable as the day progressed and ended with fastest time in the final stage.
He headed team-mate Dani Sordo by 16.3sec. The Spaniard was third for most of the morning but could not reproduce the pace when the stages were repeated and fell away.
Teemu Suninen was fifth, careful to avoid mistakes in his Fiesta after his early exit at the previous round in Mexico. He had 5.4sec in hand over a frustrated Sébastien Ogier, who failed to find the expected speed which led many to make him favourite.
An opening stage spin cost 10sec and left him eighth, but the Citroën C3 driver struggled with understeer all day and climbed to sixth only as a result of others’ problems. Team-mate Esapekka Lappi was seventh, the Finn equally unhappy and dropping time with a spin.
Sébastien Loeb, four times a winner in Corsica, battled back to eighth after losing two minutes in the opening test when his i20 slid into a kerb and broke a rear suspension arm. WRC 2 leader Eric Camilli and Yoann Bonato completed the leaderboard.
Jari-Matti Latvala was one of many to struggle with pace notes on the new stages. He was sixth until dropping to 13th after stopping to replace a wheel on his Yaris.
An opening stage puncture delayed Meeke after he hit a stone. His problems worsened when he clipped a kerb and damaged his Yaris’ rear right suspension. He ended 15th, nearly four minutes adrift.
The rally moves to the north of the island on Saturday for the longest leg of the weekend, featuring more than half the total competitive distance. Two identical anti-clockwise loops of three tests near Bastia provide 174.50km of action.