Rally Corsica, saturday: Neuville springs surprise
Elfyn Evans lost the lead in Saturday’s final stage
SS7: Tänak lays down marker
Ott Tänak drew first blood in his thrilling fight for the Corsica linea - Tour de Corse lead with Elfyn Evans on Saturday morning.
The Toyota Yaris driver clawed back 0.6sec after winning the opening 25.62km Cap Corse speed test. It reduced his deficit to Evans to 3.9sec at the start of the longest day of the FIA World Rally Championship season.
Tänak was 2sec faster than the Welshman at the midpoint of the stage across the northernmost tip of the island, but the Ford Fiesta driver battled back in the second half as the asphalt snaked down the west coast.
“It was really tight yesterday and I believe it will be the same today,” said Tänak, as he contemplated more than 174km of flat out action that lies in wait – more than half the rally’s total distance.
Evans cut a focused figure at the finish. “It was a good run but there were a few hesitations in a few areas. It wasn’t as good as it could have been but not a bad run,” he said.
A rejuvenated Sébastien Loeb was third fastest in his Hyundai i20. He edged team-mate Thierry Neuville, who extended his advantage over fourth-placed Dani Sordo, also at the wheel of an i20, to 22.1sec.
“Towards the end I struggled a bit. I was sliding too much and a bit too careful on the brakes. The car feels good, a bit of movement, but it gives us the grip we need,” said Neuville.
An agitated Teemu Suninen was only ninth fastest in his Fiesta to slip into the clutches of Sébastien Ogier, but he was unwilling to reveal what was troubling him. “A terrible stage for us. We need to try and fix things,” was all the fifth-placed Finn would say.
Ogier closed to within 2.1sec, the Frenchman admitting to a raft of overnight changes on his Citroën C3 in a bid to cure the handling issues that blighted him yesterday. “It’s a bit better but the speed is not there yet,” he said.
SS8/9: Tänak grabs lead
Ott Tänak snatched the lead of Corsica linea - Tour de Corse from Elfyn Evans in Saturday morning’s marathon 47km speed test.
The epic battle between the duo turned Tänak’s way as he won today’s opening two special stages in his Toyota Yaris, cutting the Welshman’s lead to 0.2sec and setting the scene for a showdown in the monster Castagniccia test.
The split times ebbed and flowed in both directions on the narrow, twisty and slippery asphalt, but Tänak stopped the clock 2.5sec quicker than Evans to return to the mid-leg service in Bastia with a 2.3sec advantage.
Tänak acknowledged his pace had varied. “After the first stage we made a couple changes to the set-up which worked really well. I pushed hard in the first two stages, but the long one was far too tricky to push on the limit. The grip was changing all the time,” he said.
Evans pointed to an early issue in Castagniccia. “I maybe didn’t start the best. I touched something on the rear in a dirty cut early on and it altered the handling ever so slightly. No big deal, but it didn’t help,” said the Ford Fiesta driver.
The pace of the frontrunning duo carried them 14.9sec clear of Thierry Neuville in third. The Belgian was second fastest in Désert des Agriates, but admitted he may have been over-cautious in the gravel-covered section midway through the long test.
His hesitation allowed Hyundai i20 team-mate Dani Sordo to close the gap. The Spaniard surprised himself by going fastest to cut his deficit to 16.1sec.
Third fastest in Castagniccia promoted Sébastien Ogier to fifth in his Citroën C3, ahead of Teemu Suninen. The young Finn was plagued by several small issues in his Fiesta and conceded almost 30sec to Ogier in the long stage.
A distraught Esapekka Lappi remained seventh, still searching for the key to unlock more pace. He had almost 90sec in hand over Sébastien Loeb, who lost time in Castagniccia after sliding his i20 into a ditch.
Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala completed the leaderboard, the Briton moving ahead of his Yaris team-mate in Désert des Agriates. They were separated by 8.5sec and relegated WRC 2 leader Eric Camilli, who dropped almost two minutes after stopping to change a tyre.
SS10: Evans retaliates
Elfyn Evans delivered a stirring riposte to Corsica linea - Tour de Corse leader Ott Tänak as battle resumed in the island’s northern mountains on Saturday afternoon.
After losing his hard-earned lead to the Estonian in the morning’s closing speed test, Evans made clear his intentions by clawing back vital tenths in the repeat pass through the 25.62km Cap Corse speed test.
The Welshman was second fastest in his Ford Fiesta, 0.7sec quicker than Tänak, to bring the margin between the pair down to 1.6sec with two more special stages remaining in the penultimate leg.
“It was good run, no dramas. I tried to be as smooth as possible, but still pushing,” said Evans, whose thoughts were clearly on managing tyre wear during the long afternoon loop in temperatures significantly warmer than this morning.
Both frontrunners opted for Michelin’s hard compound rubber and a relaxed Tänak indicated he was thinking along the same lines at the wheel of his Toyota Yaris. “Still a long way to go, this is not the last stage yet,” he smiled.
Kris Meeke was fastest, 2.1sec up on Evans, and while there were no changes on the leaderboard, Sébastien Loeb left the stop line with work to do on his Hyundai i20.
“We have a lot of understeer now, it’s very difficult to drive the car. I lost six seconds compared to the morning. We’ll try to change something in the set-up but it’s really not good,” said the eighth-placed Frenchman, who held a 43sec advantage over Meeke.
After SS12: Neuville springs surprise
Thierry Neuville snatched a shock lead at Corsica linea - Tour de Corse on Saturday night after a dramatic finale to the longest day of the WRC season.
The Belgian heads into Sunday’s closing leg with a 4.5sec advantage after charging ahead of leader Elfyn Evans in the marathon 47km Castagniccia speed test which ended the day.
Evans started the test with an 11.5sec advantage in his Ford Fiesta after his frantic tussle for the lead with Ott Tänak ended in the previous special stage. The Toyota Yaris driver conceded two minutes after stopping to change a punctured tyre.
Evans’ advantage appeared healthy, but an increasingly confident Neuville outgunned him by 16.0sec in his Hyundai i20 to set up a thrilling final day shootout.
“This morning we couldn’t find a good feeling to push as hard as we wanted. This afternoon we raised the height of the car and I was able to attack in every stage,” explained Neuville.
“I knew I had to keep the car on the road, but when the feeling is good you drive as fast as you can without taking big risks.”
Evans was shell-shocked. “The afternoon started well but went downhill. It was a surprise to lose so much in the last stage. Three or four seconds maybe, but 16sec is a mountain. It was a shock but the best thing to do is forget about it and concentrate on tomorrow,” he said.
The Welshman, who led after yesterday’s opening leg, was demoted by Tänak in this morning’s final test but the margin between them was only 1.6sec when disaster struck the Estonian.
Sébastien Ogier was 40.8sec adrift of Evans in third after a persistent drive. A raft of overnight changes improved his Citroën C3’s handling. He still lacked pace but climbed from sixth this morning to overhaul Dani Sordo in Castagniccia for a podium place.
Sordo ended 5.1sec adrift but with a comfortable 42.2sec lead over Teemu Suninen in fifth. The Finn was plagued by several small issues in his Fiesta this morning but closed the day with a 22.4sec margin over a disappointed Tänak.
Esapekka Lappi cut a frustrated figure throughout the day in his C3 as he searched for speed. He was seventh, ahead of Sébastien Loeb who struggled with understeer and lost more time after sliding his i20 into a ditch.
Yaris team-mates Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala completed the leaderboard, Latvala losing two minutes after stopping to change a wheel in the penultimate stage.
Sunday’s leg transfers to the west coast near Calvi and is the shortest of the rally. Drivers face just two stages covering 51.19km, culminating with the Wolf Power Stage in which bonus points will be awarded to the fastest five drivers.