SS3: Mikkelsen bags shock lead
Andreas Mikkelsen was the surprise leader of RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España after a fascinating opening on Friday morning.
Stage info: SS3
Terra Alta 1, 38.95km
Terra Alta is the longest stage of the rally. A 3km section at the start, which was new last year, leads into Vilalba del Arcs, before it heads away through a well-known zig-zag which offers great views of the village and its bell tower in the background. It is mostly gravel but drivers face five surface changes, including an incredibly twisty and undulating 6km asphalt section in the middle and a tight asphalt hairpin near the finish on tyres worn by the gravel.
Driving a Hyundai i20 in competition for the first time after signing for the Korean manufacturer last month, Mikkelsen vaulted from fifth to first after winning the tough Terra Alta speed test which closed the morning’s action.
With tyres already showing wear after two gravel tests, managing the rubber through the 39km special stage, which also contained several abrasive and technical asphalt sections, was key. Mikkelsen mastered it.
He was fastest by 2.7sec to lead fellow Norwegian Mads Østberg by 0.6sec and said: “I made some differential changes before the stage and it’s better now. I start to feel more and more at home.”
Østberg was second quickest but continued to struggle with dust entering his Ford Fiesta’s cockpit. “It's ridiculous, I don’t see in the stage and Torstein (co-driver Eriksen) is struggling with this voice,” he explained.
Road opener Sébastien Ogier had the worst of the conditions but the championship leader climbed to third overall in his Fiesta, 4.0sec behind Østberg. He finished with two badly worn tyres but third fastest was his reward for a fine drive.
Fourth was Ott Tänak, the Estonian slipping back from the lead and 7.4sec behind Mikkelsen after a slow puncture in his Fiesta. “On the Tarmac section we had a tyre alarm. It was disturbing and I lost my rhythm,” he explained.
Kris Meeke dropped time on the mid-stage asphalt but the Citroën C3 pilot was just 0.2sec behind Tänak in fifth place, with Dani Sordo completing the top six in another i20.
There was a glum expression on Thierry Neuville’s face at the stage finish. The Belgian was the only driver to opt for soft compound rubber all round and it was a decision he regretted.
“Not the greatest choice. The information was the soft compounds would last at least 50km, but the temperature was higher than expected and they went off after 10km. We couldn’t take advantage,” said Neuville, who was seventh and 15.8sec off the lead.
Jari-Matti Latvala and Juho Hänninen were eighth and ninth in Toyota Yaris cars, with Elfyn Evans completing the leaderboard after clipping a stone near the finish. The impact broke his Fiesta’s front left wheel.
Esapekka Lappi conceded 30sec after losing the brakes in his Yaris on the asphalt.
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