SS8/9: Title blow for Neuville

Thierry Neuville’s WRC title hopes took another jolt following a bizarre liaison section spin at Rally RACC Catalunya - Rally de España on Saturday morning.

Stage info: SS8/9

SS8: El Pont d’Armentera 1, 21.29km
A new stage, although it is in fact the Querol test driven 12 months ago, but in the opposite direction. It climbs for most of the way, initially on smooth and fast asphalt, but changes after a tight left junction in Esblada near the midpoint. The road becomes very narrow and twisty, with bend following bend until the finish in Pontils.

SS9: Savallà 1, 14.12km
A stage of varying characteristics which make it one of the event’s most demanding. After a downhill start on a two-lane road, it switches to a narrow ribbon of asphalt which winds up through a series of medium bends to Savallà del Comtat. Following a juntion in Segura, it descends through fast and wide corners to Conesa. It’s all-change again as the surface becomes broken and the final section reverts to a narrow lane. A new test for 2017.

He climbed to fifth following the day’s second speed test at El Pont d’Armentera, just a second adrift of an intense fight for second. He ended the stage with no hydraulic pressure and stopped en route to the following Savallà test to make repairs to his Hyundai i20.

The engine refused to fire up and in his haste to reach the Savallà start on time, Neuville spun and damaged the rear of the car. He eventually started three minutes late, incurring a 30 second penalty, before conceding 12sec to Juho Hänninen’s fastest time.

The Belgian returned to mid-leg service in Salou in eighth, almost 40sec adrift of title rival Sébastien Ogier and facing the prospect of conceding more points to the Frenchman.

Kris Meeke continued to lead, the Citroën C3 pilot saying: “We targeted a push on the first stage and it’s been a really good morning. The last stage was new, and there was quite a lot of pollution pulled out so we took it carefully.”

Behind Meeke, it was all change again. Four drivers started Savallà split by a single second in the overall standings. When they emerged, Ott Tänak had displaced Dani Sordo in second, with Ogier also now ahead of the Spaniard.

Changes to the set-up of Tänak’s Ford Fiesta left the Estonian happier, although he reported a possible transmission problem. He had a 0.3sec advantage over frustrated team-mate Ogier, who struggled to generate the pace he expected, with Sordo 0.8sec further back.

Overnight leader Andreas Mikkelsen could not reproduce his gravel pace on asphalt and was fifth, 20.8sec off the lead. “It’s easier to fight at the top on gravel than asphalt. On asphalt you have to be so precise and I need more time in the car,” said the i20 debutant.

Hänninen enjoyed a stellar morning in his Toyota Yaris. The Finn won both SS7 and SS8 to climb to sixth with a comfortable margin over Mads Østberg in seventh. Behind Neuville, Esapekka Lappi and Stéphane Lefebvre completed the top 10.

Head to WRC+ to see the latest onboard and video reports from RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España.

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