Rally España, saturday: Neuville heads title-chasing Tänak
Tänak climbs to third to close on world title
SS7-8-9: Neuville regains Spain lead
Thierry Neuville stormed back into the lead of RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España on Saturday morning as he fought to keep alive his FIA World Rally Championship title hopes.
Victory in the Savallà and Querol speed tests promoted the Belgian ahead of Hyundai i20 team-mate and overnight leader Sébastien Loeb. Despite brake problems in the loop’s closing El Montmell test, he headed for service with an 11.4sec advantage.
“A perfect morning for us, we had a good feeling and good speed. We’re up to the position where we want and need to be,” said Neuville, who must win to stand any chance of taking the battle for the drivers’ crown with Ott Tänak to next month’s final round.
After teams transformed their cars from gravel to sealed-surface set-up last night for the final two days, Loeb struggled to find the pace that carried him into the lead yesterday. “Maybe I didn’t have the right rhythm and I didn’t want to do a mistake,” explained the Frenchman.
Dani Sordo retained third to protect Hyundai Motorsport’s 1-2-3, the Korean squad on target to enhance its manufacturers’ title lead. The Spaniard trailed Loeb by 5.4sec but had 9.8sec in hand over championship leader Tänak’s Toyota Yaris.
The Estonian was Toyota’s lead driver following the demise of Kris Meeke. The Briton climbed to third after demoting Sordo in Savallà, but crashed out early in Querol when he drifted wide in a left corner, hit a barrier and ripped off a rear wheel.
Jari-Matti Latvala was up to fifth in another Yaris, the Finn now a vital cog in Toyota’s title chase after Meeke’s exit. He struggled for confidence but was comfortably clear of Elfyn Evans Ford Fiesta, the Welshman similarly lacking self-assurance.
Teemu Suninen was seventh in another Fiesta, nearly three minutes clear of Sébastien Ogier’s Citroën C3. WRC 2 Pro leader Mads Østberg and WRC 2 spearhead Eric Camilli completed the top 10.
Esapekka Lappi did not restart after the engine problems in his Citroën C3, with which he retired yesterday, proved terminal. Japanese youngster Takamoto Katsuta limped through the morning with suspected gearbox problems in his Yaris, dropping almost 20 minutes.
SS10-11: Neuville widens gap
Thierry Neuville increased his RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España lead on Saturday afternoon as team-mate Sébastien Lob struggled to match the Belgian’s pace on the fast and flowing asphalt speed tests.
The Belgian demoted Loeb from top spot this morning and continued to put time into the Frenchman when the stages were repeated.
Second fastest in Savallà and third in Querol carried Neuville 16.5sec clear at the head of this penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship – a rally he must win to keep alive his title hopes.
“I’m trying to avoid the big cuts and just having a good run. We do not improve the time from this morning, which shows it’s a bit more slippery in places,” he said.
Loeb was at a loss to explain his downturn in pace after conceding more than five seconds to his Hyundai i20 colleague. “I pushed really hard. I don’t understand, I thought I had driven a great stage,” he said at the finish of Savallà.
Dani Sordo, driving a third i20, reduced the deficit to Loeb to only 2.9sec with two more stages remaining today. Both must keep a wary eye out for championship leader Ott Tänak, who won both tests in his Toyota Yaris and narrowed the gap to Sordo to 6.3sec.
Neuville is praying that both the Spaniard and Loeb can repel Tanak’s attack and give him a better opportunity of carrying the championship battle into next month’s final round in Australia.
Jari-Matti Latvala and Elfyn Evans continue to hold fifth and sixth in a Yaris and Ford Fiesta respectively.
After SS13: Neuville heads title-chasing Tänak
Thierry Neuville led RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España on Saturday night in a bold bid to carry his FIA World Rally Championship title fight with Ott Tänak into the final round.
He ended the penultimate leg with a 21.5sec advantage over Hyundai i20 team-mate Dani Sordo. Championship leader Tänak lies just 3.1sec further back after demoting Sébastien Loeb’s i20 by 0.6sec in the final speed test.
While Neuville’s lead looks comfortable with only Sunday’s short leg remaining, he is praying his colleagues can repel Tänak’s attack which could secure the Estonian a maiden world crown ahead of next month’s final round in Australia.
After teams transformed their cars from gravel to asphalt set-up last night for the final two days, Neuville won the opening two speed tests to relegate Loeb, who struggled to replicate the pace he had on yesterday’s dirt roads.
The Belgian added another fastest time in the final test to put himself on the cusp of victory. That could prove in vain if Tänak beats Sordo and Loeb, meaning he could secure the crown with bonus points in tomorrow’s closing Wolf Power Stage.
“I’ve done my job so far and my team-mates are really trying to resist, but obviously Tänak was fast this afternoon. We’re going to try and finish the job we started yesterday morning and let’s see whether Tänak can claim second or if he stays in third,” said Neuville.
Tänak, driving a Toyota Yaris, started the day fifth and a run of four stage victories enabled him to close on the Hyundai trio and set his sights on finishing second tomorrow.
“This morning I wasn’t feeling too relaxed but now I’ve been able to learn a bit and get into a rhythm. We would like to keep the pressure, but to take the time back will be difficult,” said Tänak..
First and second for Hyundai Motorsport at tomorrow’s Salou finish would enhance the Korean squad’s manufacturers’ championship lead over Toyota Gazoo Racing.
Jari-Matti Latvala was fifth in another Yaris, the Finn a vital cog in Toyota’s title chase after team-mate Kris Meeke crashed this morning. After demoting Sordo to climb to third, Meeke drifted wide in a left corner, hit a barrier and ripped off a rear wheel.
The Finn suffered understeer but was 22.4sec clear of a frustrated Elfyn Evans, who struggled for pace in his Ford Fiesta.
Teemu Suninen was seventh in another Fiesta, nearly three minutes clear of Sébastien Ogier’s Citroën C3. After yesterday’s time loss and with his title hopes in tatters, Ogier focused on test work.
WRC 2 Pro leader Mads Østberg and WRC 2 spearhead Eric Camilli completed the top 10.
Esapekka Lappi did not restart after his C3’s engine problems which caused him to retire yesterday, proved terminal. Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta plunged down the order after limping through the morning with gearbox problems in his Yaris, dropping almost 20 minutes.
Sunday’s finale is the shortest of the rally at 74.14km. Two stages are driven either side of service in Salou and the final La Mussara test forms the potentially crucial Wolf Power Stage, with bonus points on offer to the fastest five drivers.
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