Ogier held a narrow advantage after last night sprint stages and built on that in today’s two longest tests. He won the morning passes of the 21.91km El Cubilete and the 30.57km El Chocolate and repeated the feat this afternoon.
“When you think about the road position we had, to lead tonight by more than 20 seconds…well, it’s been a good day,” said Ogier. “We didn’t expect this. It’s the first time on gravel but it looks like the car is also good here.”
Ostberg was the only driver to challenge Ogier. The Norwegian won two stages in both the morning and afternoon loops, despite never feeling at ease in the other tests.
“It’s been an up and down sort of day,” said Ostberg. “Difficult to explain, but Ogier has done something very special. We can only be happy with what we have done, but it’s disappointing to lose contact with him.”
Mikko Hirvonen and Thierry Neuville dueled over third place throughout the day, which covered 11 stages and 160.75km, mostly in the rolling mountains east of Leon.
Although the young Belgian reduced the deficit to Hirvonen to just four-tenths of a second, the experienced Finn pulled clear in the El Chocolate test to end 25.1sec ahead in his Citroen DS3.
“It’s been a mixed day,” said Hirvonen. “I don’t know myself why I wasn’t on the pace on all the stages. Some were good, but on others the speed wasn’t there.”
Neuville was happy to reflect on an impressive debut on gravel in the Fiesta RS. “It was a good day. I couldn’t feel the car in the last long stage because it was so rough. I don’t know the car’s limits and I didn’t want to damage it on the first day,” he said.
Behind the first four drivers, large gaps opened across the rest of the top 10. A lacklustre Dani Sordo is fifth in the second Citroen Total Abu Dhabi car, 1min 33.0sec behind Neuville, with Nasser Al-Attiyah’s Fiesta RS in sixth, another 44.0sec adrift.
The top 10 is completed by Ken Block, Benito Guerra on his debut in a World Rally Car, Martin Prokop and Chris Atkinson.
Prokop’s co-driver, Michal Ernst, struggled with illness for much of the day, while Atkinson incurred a 3min 30sec penalty when he stopped to repair broken steering after hitting a rock.
The only major retirement was the Polo R of Jari-Matti Latvala who hit a rock in the driving line just 400 metres into the opening stage. The impact broke the front right suspension arm and he will restart tomorrow under Rally 2 regulations.
Evgeny Novikov’s hopes ended when a rock punched through the floor of his Fiesta RS in the opening stage and damaged the ECU. He stopped to replace it and lost more time in the next test when a loose connection on the unit halted him again. The Russian lost 12 minutes.
The WRC 2 support category is led by Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari, his Ford Fiesta RRC 2min 24.3sec ahead of Nicolas Fuchs. The Qatari has been beaten on only one stage.
“Everything was fine apart from the last long stage this afternoon,” he said. “I was told to raise the suspension but I didn’t listen and the car was touching the road everywhere. In some places I was on the limit, and in others I was cautious.”
Fuchs, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Eco IX, moved ahead of Armin Kremer’s Subaru Impreza this afternoon and holds a 1min 36.7sec advantage. Ricardo Trivino is fourth in another Lancer.