DANI Sordo excelled in treacherous conditions to lead RallyRACC Catalunya-Rally de España on Friday night and set up hopes of a home victory for the first time in 21 years.
Torrential rain turned gravel tracks in the hills above the Costa Daurada into a mudbath, with aquaplaning a constant threat in water-filled ruts. But Sordo’s storming afternoon performance earned the Hyundai i20 pilot a 17.0sec lead over Volkswagen’s Sebastien Ogier.
Championship leader Ogier, bidding to seal a fourth consecutive world title this weekend, and Thierry Neuville each led during the morning’s three speed tests. Sordo was sublime when they were repeated, winning two and placing second in the other to climb from fourth to first.
“This is a dream for me,” said Sordo, hoping to become the first Spaniard to win on home ground since Carlos Sainz in 1995.
“I have to say thanks to the team for a great job with the car. Tomorrow we need to continue and see what we can do. Two long days to go, but today was unbelievable.”
Ogier endured the worst of the slimy roads from first in the starting order and the Frenchman admitted his priority in the early afternoon stages was simply surviving in his Volkswagen Polo R.
Teammate Andreas Mikkelsen completed the provisional podium places, 18.1sec behind Ogier. The Norwegian overcame brake problems late in the day and twice slowed on stages when mistakenly believing he had a puncture.
Hyundai duo Neuville and Hayden Paddon were split by just 1.2sec in fourth and fifth. Neuville led after SS2 and was second when he spun on the inside of a SS5 corner, clipping a tree, removing the front bodywork and leaving his i20’s radiator exposed.
Paddon’s anti-lag system failed to work all day and the New Zealander was surprised not to lose more time.
Kris Meeke rolled his Citroën DS 3 in the opening stage after touching a bank. He recovered to sixth ahead of teammate Craig Breen, who picked up a 10sec penalty after checking into a time control late after a slow tyre change. Ott Tänak and Eric Camilli completed the leaderboard in Ford Fiesta RS cars.
After a lacklustre start on Thursday night when he ceded 12sec in the Barcelona street stage, Jari-Matti Latvala revelled in the slippery conditions, winning two stages to climb to third. However, his Polo R was sidelined in the afternoon afternoon with broken suspension.
During an extended service on Friday night teams converted their cars from gravel specification for the final two days on sealed-surface roads. Saturday sees drivers tackle eight tests, three of which are repeated, covering 139.18km.
1 D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) 1:18:44.4
2 S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +17.0
3 A. Mikkelsen / A. Jaeger (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +35.1
4 T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +46.3
5 H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +47.5
6 M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +54.3
7 K. Meeke / P. Nagle (Citroën DS3 WRC) +1:06.3
8 C. Breen / S. Martin (Citroën DS3 WRC) +1:44.6
9 O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +2:04.4
10 E. Camilli / B. Veillas (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +3:44.3