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(Below: Reeves third in DMACK Fiesta Trophy)

SÉBASTIEN Ogier battled back to the front of Spain’s Rally RACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada after an enthralling Friday leg in which the lead changed hands four times.

He headed Volkswagen Polo R teammate Jari-Matti Latvala by 4.0sec after eight predominantly gravel speed tests in the hills south of Barcelona. Ott Tänak was third, 11.3sec off the lead in a Ford Fiesta RS.

Ogier, who led after Thursday’s curtain-raising street stage in the Catalan capital, won just one of Friday’s tests covering 128.60km. But his performances in the mixed surface Terra Alta, which ended both morning and afternoon loops, earned him top billing.

The 35.68km stage, the longest of the penultimate round of the WRC, contained a rough 6km asphalt stretch to break up the gravel. Tyre management on the abrasive roads was key and Ogier preserved his Michelin rubber to ensure maximum grip in the final gravel part.

Handicapped by opening the road on slippery gravel, Ogier lost his early lead to Robert Kubica. He regained it in the first run through Terra Alta, only to lose it to Latvala before winning the second pass to move back in front.

Latvala was disappointed with a cautious start that left him seventh. A more aggressive attitude propelled him up the leaderboard, although he could not match Ogier in the long stage where dirt dragged onto the asphalt made conditions slippery.

Tänak won three stages, more than any other driver, and was less than a second off the lead before the final stage. However, the Estonian overused his tyres on the asphalt and fell to third.

Spain’s Dani Sordo had a consistent day to hold fourth in a Hyundai i20, 26.9sec off the lead and 2.8sec ahead of Mads Østberg. The Norwegian won two stages in Citroën’s DS3 and held second until a slow puncture cost nearly 30 seconds.

A subdued Andreas Mikkelsen was sixth, less than a second ahead of Hayden Paddon, whose pace placed him third after the morning. Kris Meeke, Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans completed the leaderboard.

Robert Kubica led for two stages in his Fiesta RS until a double puncture dropped him out of contention. Another puncture in the afternoon and a gearbox jammed in first in the final stage ended an ultimately disappointing day.

Teams had an extended 75 minute service on Friday night in which to transform their cars from gravel to asphalt specification for the final two days.

Saturday brings eight sealed surface stages, three of which are driven twice, covering 123.05km.

Reeves third in DMACK Fiesta Trophy

Brendan Reeves and Rhianon Gelsomino finished Friday in third place in the Drive DMACK Fiesta Trophy.

Reeves started Friday’s stages with the same six tyres he used for Thursday night’s Super Special Stage in Barcelona, which meant they were slightly worn.

After setting a blistering pace on SS1 in Barcelona, which saw him take the overnight lead, Reeves set out on Friday’s opener continuing to learn more about the DMACK Ford Fiesta ST.

“It was important to understand how the tyres wear and how the car set-up affects that, so the first four stages we really focused on that to help us for the afternoon loop of stages that were a repeat,” Reeves said.

At the halfway mark of day one Reeves received four new tyres at a tyre-fitting zone. After seeing how his tyres wore on the first loop of stages, Reeves knew how much harder he could push in the afternoon.

The afternoon loop, stages proved more grippy and Reeves was able to maintain third place overall.

Reeves fitted two new DMACK tyres and made a couple of adjustments as he prepared to tackle the repeat of the mammoth SS9 stage. He went into the stage knowing he was only 12 seconds behind fellow DDFT competitor Tom Cave and while he was down in the splits at the halfway mark, Reeves managed to pull away from the competition.

He won the stage was able to reel Cave in so that only one second separates them heading into Saturday’s eight tarmac stages.

“I’m really happy with this afternoon’s pace. We caught quite a lot of dust in the morning but with the two-minute gaps this afternoon it was much better.

“We were able to go to a bit harder set up and this worked on the tarmac section. The car pulled through well today.”

Team mechanics swapped the Fiesta from a gravel set-up to a full tarmac set-up in time for day two.

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.

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