SS14-16: Neuville retires in Spain
Thierry Neuville’s WRC title hopes took a potentially terminal blow on Sunday morning when he retired from RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España after shattering his Hyundai i20’s suspension.
Stage info: SS14-16
SS14: L’Albiol 1, 6.28km
This is a spectacular downhill blast that is driven in the opposite direction to last year. Less than a kilometre from the start near the junction in L’Albiol, a wriggling section of hairpin bends begins, which eventually climaxes with a very fast stretch towards the finish near Vilaplana. A big hairpin just metres from the end is hugely popular with fans.
SS15: Riudecanyes 1, 16.35km
Best known for the famous roundabout at Coll de la Teixeta, soon after the start, where drivers complete a 360 degree doughnut in front of huge crowds packed on the hillsides. Much of the stage is downhill, and the opening part to Duesaigües is twisty and complicated. After passing under the landmark railway bridge, the road becomes flatter and faster, before skirting Riudecanyes reservoir and onto the finish.
SS16: Santa Marina 1, 14.50km
A new configuration of one of the rally’s classic stages, last driven in this format five years ago. It speeds from the start into Pratdip where a tight junction brings a switch from narrow and broken asphalt to a wider and smoother surface. Speeds rise further en route to Santa Marina, where the test passes the village chapel before a final twisty section up to the finish at Coll de Fatxes.
His troubled weekend ended in the first pass of the Santa Marina speed test, the third of the day. He entered a left bend too quickly and made a deep cut in the following right corner. An impact broke the front right wheel and although he limped to the finish, it was over.
His exit leaves Sébastien Ogier on course to leave Spain holding a comfortable advantage in the championship standings with two rounds remaining in Britain and Australia.
“We tried everything to fightback today. We had an unlucky weekend with some trouble yesterday and now it’s finished for us. After yesterday’s problems we had no choice than to push hard and that is what we did. There are no regrets,” said a phlegmatic Neuville.
It also puts M-Sport World Rally Team within touching distance of sealing the manufacturers’ title, which would be its first since 2007 with Ford.
If things remain as they are, the British squad will fall four points short here, but a simple two-car finish at its home event would be sufficient, irrespective of their overall placings.
Meeke remained on target for the rally victory after winning all three morning special stages.
His only hiccup came at the famous Riudecanyes roundabout where drivers tackle a 360 degree doughnut in front of huge crowds. He misjudged the handbrake slide and dropped a couple of seconds as he realigned his Citroën C3.
The big battle for second between Ford Fiesta team-mates Ogier and Ott Tänak continued unabated. First blood went to the Estonian, who narrowed his deficit to Ogier to under a second in L’Albiol.
The Frenchman responded with quicker times in both following tests to end the loop 1.8sec in front.
Juho Hänninen acknowledged the gap to the duelling M-Sport pair was too great and consolidated fourth in his Toyota Yaris. The retirement of both Neuville and Esapekka Lappi left the Finn with a comfortable cushion over Mads Østberg.
Lappi’s strong run in sixth ended in Riudecanyes when he crashed his Yaris into a barrier (bottom pic).
Andreas Mikkelsen drove Riudecanyes with his i20’s bonnet open. In the rush to remove and store his light pods in the boot before the start, the Norwegian crew didn’t fasten the bonnet pins. A smashed windscreen and broken intercom added to Mikkelsen’s woes.
M-Sport closes on manufacturers' title
British squad can seal the crown in Spain
Saturday in Spain: Masterful Meeke leads
Ogier boosts title hopes as Neuville struggles
WRC 2 in Spain: Clean sweep for Kopecky
Suninen retains support category lead