SS11/12: Tänak comfortable
Ott Tänak’s YPF Rally Argentina lead looked increasingly comfortable as he ended Saturday morning’s speed tests with a 42.2sec advantage.
Stage info: SS11/12
SS11: Cuchilla Nevada / Rio Pintos 1, 40.48km
The longest stage of the rally is also the toughest, as drivers encounter concrete gutters across the road, river crossings and dried water splashes. It is blisteringly fast at the start and a major feature is a jump directly in front of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Characato chapel. It’s a combination of the last part and the first part of two stages from 2017, and the road section linking them.
SS12: Super Especial Fernet Branca 1, 6.04km
The popular gravel super special stage at the theme park on the edge of Villa Carlos Paz is used in the same format as last year. Two cars at a time drive the twisty circuit which mixes fast corners with slower bends, and also has a jump and a crossover bridge. It’s always a big hit with the fans.
The Toyota Yaris pilot won all three stages in the hills north-west of Villa Carlos Paz before third in a short theme park test on the edge of town allowed him to return to service full of confidence.
“The fog made it really tricky, but we were always a bit on the safe side and when it cleared we started to push a bit more. The car is driving like I want and it gives me good confidence,” said the Estonian.
Thierry Neuville moved into the role of closest challenger in his Hyundai i20. Second in the long and foggy stage from Cuchilla Nevada to Rio Pintos promoted the Belgian ahead of Kris Meeke and fastest time in the super special stretched his advantage to 10.1sec.
Dani Sordo remained fourth in another i20, but the Spaniard was breathing more easily after increasing the gap to Sébastien Ogier from 15sec to 41.4sec.
Ogier was almost a minute off Tänak’s pace in Cuchilla Nevada, the Frenchman insisting he was simply cautious in the fog rather than suffering other issues with his Ford Fiesta. His wary approach allowed Andreas Mikkelsen to close to within 7.6sec in sixth.
Craig Breen’s grip on sixth came to a violent end in Cuchilla Nevada when he rolled his C3 before the midpoint. He finished the stage with co-driver Scott Martin holding his door closed and both the windscreen and rear wing missing.
“We tried to push on a bit, after a jump and I got crossed up. I had to steer to avoid a ditch but it spat me out,” explained Breen, who lost almost 10 minutes limping to the finish. He retired on arrival at service with a damaged roll cage.
Elfyn Evans found his form in Cuchilla Nevada. After a lacklustre event, the Welshman was third fastest in his Ford Fiesta and climbed to seventh.
Esapekka Lappi dropped almost 20sec after going off following a rare pace note error from co-driver Janne Ferm. The Finn dropped behind Evans, while Teemu Suninen and WRC 2 leader Kalle Rovanperä completed the leaderboard.
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