Stage description: The stage is 8.29km shorter than last year with the start now in Vilalba del Arcs. It is the only proper mixed stage, with five surface changes and an incredibly twisty 6km stretch of asphalt midway through which will be tough for tyres and brakes. After a flowing start, it winds through a gorge with great views of the rock faces.
How the action unfolded:
As expected, the overnight switch from asphalt to gravel roads has made a huge difference to Rally de Espana, and this morning’s three stages have thrown the outcome wide open.
With three stages to go, overnight leader Jari-Matti Latvala is still out front in his Volkswagen Polo R, and by an increased margin of 11.5seconds thanks to road conditions that weren’t as slippery as he had feared.
On Saturday, Citroen’s Dani Sordo engineered Latvala’s start position of first on the road in a bid to give himself a cleaner racing line today. But while this strategy was successful, the Spaniard was instead hampered by clouds of dust kicked up by Latvala’s car that hung in the still air.
However the biggest concern for both drivers today has been the astonishing pace of Sebastien Ogier behind. Ogier began the day fourth, 46 seconds off the lead, but he returns to midday service third and less than 15 seconds away after a clean sweep of stage wins.
Ogier was the rally’s early leader but dropped to sixth on Saturday after a puncture. This morning the Frenchman turned his position of fourth on the road to his advantage, making the most of roads swept of loose gravel by the cars ahead, and having absolute confidence in his pace notes as he drove his Polo flat-out into the wall of dust.
With three stages to go, and less of a road position advantage on the repeated stages, the question now is whether Ogier can make up one or perhaps two places before the finish.
The man himself knows it will be tough. “It won’t be possible to make up the same sort of time, but I still think we can be faster. It will be close,” he said.
“He is flying,” reflected Latvala. “He has a very good road position and the [road] cleaning effect is bigger that I expected. There’s nothing I can do about that. Let’s see what we can do, we have three more stages to go.”
Sordo finds himself in an uncomfortable position. The Spaniard doesn’t have Latvala’s advantage of clear forward vision – although an afternoon breeze would quickly change that - and he is under most pressure from the hard-charging Ogier who was 18sec quicker on SS12.
Things were looking good on the last stage of the morning loop, when he was 4.8sec quicker than Latvala at the 19.50km split, but he ended up being 1.5sec slower. “The time was good at the middle but after that I tried to push more I pushed too hard,” he admitted. “I ended up out of the clean lines – that cost a lot of time.”
Thierry Neuville has been the highest profile casualty of Sunday morning’s stages. The Belgian was third overnight, just 29sec off the lead, but returns to service fifth, 1m 20s back after a puncture on stage 11 and a suspected transmission problem on stage 12. “I think we’ve broken a differential, we have wheelspin in fourth and fifth gear,” he explained. “Maybe it’s something connected to the puncture earlier.”
Neuville’s problems promoted Mikko Hirvonen to fourth, 38.7sec behind Ogier, with Neuville now fifth, another 25.9sec further back. Behind them in sixth Evgeny Novikov leads a quartet of Ford Fiesta World Rally Cars drivers Mads Ostberg, Martin Prokop and Hayden Paddon.
WRC 2 category leader Robert Kubica rounds out the top 10.