Stage description: Run in the same format in 2012, Gandesa begins on Tarmac for 800 metres before it switches to gravel for the rest of the stage. The road is medium wide, fast and smooth with plenty of corners and hard braking. Expect some road cleaning here.
How the action unfolded:
After two days of asphalt stages, the competition on Rally de Espana switched to gravel for Sunday’s final leg, and the short opening stage gave a taster of the exciting battle ahead.
Rally leader Jari-Matti Latvala has the dubious honour of driving first through today’s stages – a position he was forced into thanks to some shrewd tactics from Dani Sordo on day two.
But despite dry conditions, which kept the gravel at its slippery worst, Latvala was pleasantly surprised when he arrived at the finish control.
“It was slippery in places, but not as bad as I was thinking,” said Latvala, who drives a Volkswagen Polo R. “The worst bits were the concrete sections with gravel on – they were very slippery. But in this position, all I can do is push and go as fast as I can.”
Citroen driver Sordo was next to complete, but despite a cleaner racing line he was 1.5sec slower than Latvala. “That was okay but there are clouds of dust in the stage [from Latvala's car] so it’s difficult to see. It’s best to be first on the road maybe…” he said.
Third placed Thierry Neuville set the fifth fastest time, the Belgian also struggling for visibility. “There’s more and more dust and I made a few mistakes,” he said. “I could have done better but I couldn’t see. It will be a problem I think. Okay, the road is cleaning a bit, but when you can’s see where you’re going it doesn’t mean anything...”
Volkswagen’s Sebastien Ogier began the day 46.5sec off the lead, but reduced that to 42.8sec with a terrific time through Gandesa – reigniting the four-way fight for victory. “It was a massive push, not easy because there was a lot of dust in the air, but we tried. I don’t know if I can close the gap but for sure I’m going to try,” he said.
Ogier’s time was later eclipsed by his team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen, who was four seconds quicker from his position of eleventh on the road.