Pesells is a tricky test, which is identical to last year. The surface is smooth and covered with a thin layer of gravel which will clean for later starters. The roads become faster as the stage progresses, although the final 4km are twisty. There are a few short asphalt sections and barriers line the most difficult bends.
How the action unfolded:
Slippery gravel, hanging dust and low early morning sun delivered a fiendishly difficult combination, but Sebastien Ogier delivered a stunning performance to reignite hopes of a sensational win in this penultimate round of the WRC.
The world champion was 12sec faster than leader Jari-Matti Latvala and 18.8sec quicker than Dani Sordo as he ousted Thierry Neuville from third overall and reduced the margin to Latvala to 30.8sec with four stages to go.
Ogier benefited from cleaner roads having started fourth, but that advantage was negated by huge clouds of dust hanging in the still morning air and blinding sunshine. But the Frenchman attacked hard in his Volkswagen Polo R.
“It’s very hard. I had to trust my pace notes because so many times I was lost in the dust. I didn’t know where I was on the road. It’s crazy, the visibility was really bad,” said Ogier.
Even first-on-the-road Latvala was hindered by the dust as the switchback roads twisted and turned through the Catalan hills. He was fourth fastest in his Polo R and said: “I was struggling with the sun. It was really bright in my eyes. Even I had the dust and the sun, and it was difficult to drive at the end.
Dani Sordo, the third driver in the battle for victory, was sixth quickest in his Citroen DS3 and the Spaniard was an animated man at the finish.
“There was a lot of dust at the end. It was flat, flat, flat but then it was difficult to brake for the slow corner near the finish. I drove really badly and I’m surprised I didn’t lose more time. It was nice at the beginning but easy to make a mistake at the end. I’m not surprised by Jari-Matti’s time from first on the road,” he said.
Thierry Neuville lost almost a minute after puncturing the right rear tyre on his Ford Fiesta RS in the opening part of the stage. He slipped to fifth, behind Ogier and Mikko Hirvonen, but was unsure how the puncture happened.
“I don’t know, no idea,” he said. “You can see nothing in places. In sixth gear you discover the dust and sun and sometimes you are not on the road because you can’t see,” explained the Belgian.
Mikko Hirvonen was fifth in his DS3 and the Finn admitted visibility was so bad he almost had to stop twice.
Andreas Mikkelsen, starting 10th on the road, enjoyed the cleanest conditions of the top drivers and sped to a second straight win in his Polo R, 9.3sec ahead of Ogier. “I have a good rhythm. It was hard to see sometimes but I have a clean road and the conditions are better for me,” he said.