PHOTO: Andreas Mikkelsen races his Polo R past an enthusiastic Spanish crowd (Volkswagen pic)
SÉBASTIEN Ogier takes a lead of almost a minute into Sunday’s final leg of Rally RACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada in Spain after a mistake from teammate Jari-Matti Latvala eased the pressure.
Ogier extended his 4.0sec overnight advantage to 11.0 sec during Saturday’s opening two stages as second-placed Latvala fought brake problems on his Volkswagen Polo R, WRC.com reported.
Having resolved them, the Finn attacked in the next test but an over-ambitious corner-cut soon after the start was his undoing. He hit a concrete block, smashed a wheel and lost 50 sec driving the final 10km with a flat tyre.
This left Ogier clear and three wins from four morning tests meant he could relax to reach the overnight halt with a 54.0 sec advantage. He added a further two stage wins in the afternoon to his tally.
“It’s been a fun day. The car was perfect so it was fantastic to drive these great stages,” Ogier said.
“Since I had a bigger gap over Jari-Matti I took it easier, especially in the dirty places, but when it was cleaner I still pushed. But we still have to negotiate 80 km tomorrow.”
After Friday’s mainly gravel roads, Saturday was all about smooth circuit-like asphalt in the Tarragona hills and Latvala raced back from fourth to second by winning three of the final five stages.
Dani Sordo inherited second after Latvala’s drama but was ill at ease with an understeering Hyundai i20. Andreas Mikkelsen climbed steadily from sixth to demote him in the afternoon and finish 2.9 sec behind Latvala, giving Volkswagen a 1-2-3, and 4.5 sec ahead of the Spaniard.
Understeer was a common complaint in the morning and Mads Østberg described his early progress as ‘horrible’. The day improved for the Norwegian until he stalled his Citroën DS3’s engine in the final stage to drop behind teammate Kris Meeke into sixth.
A frustrated Meeke spent much of the day trying to perfect his set-up but the Ulsterman nevertheless climbed from eighth to fifth.
Hayden Paddon lost time after twice puncturing and that dropped the Kiwi into the clutches of fellow i20 driver Thierry Neuville. The Belgian was another to struggle with handling problems but the pair ended tied for seventh.
M-Sport had a disastrous day. Ott Tänak retired from third after ripping a wheel from his Ford Fiesta RS when he hit a barrier and teammate Elfyn Evans went out after nosing his car into a ditch. The Fiesta was undamaged but stuck.
Sunday’s final leg features two identical loops of three asphalt tests covering 76.40 km.