Named after a small town halfway through, El Chocolate is a new stage that features a 5km section of the former Ortega stage at the end. It’s a mid-sized road with a lot of loose gravel and a varied character that includes climbs and descents, narrow, technical sections and flat-out blasts. The road surface varies too, with five distinctly different types of gravel.
How the action unfolded:
Rally leader Sebastien Ogier ended Mads Ostberg’s run of stage wins on the repeat of El Chocolate, powering his Polo R through the 30km test an incredible 10.4 seconds quicker than anybody else.
Competing the stage before Ostberg, at the finish control the unflappable Frenchman acknowledged that the time was ‘okay’ but said the road cleaning effect could still benefit those drivers following.
In the event Ostberg was third fastest, 11.2 seconds adrift. “I tried to push Ogier and on some sections we were equal or we gained a bit, but in other places it’s like I’m not even driving - we were one second per kilometre down and I have no idea why," he said.
“There is something missing and I think it must be related to the grip changes. Compared to the ones before, this stage is like tarmac. It’s a bit like Monte Carlo. And I don’t like Monte Carlo.”
Mikko Hirvonen was second fastest in his Citroen DS3 to consolidate third overall. “The stage was okay but Ogier is going really quickly and it’s difficult to match his times,” he said. “That’s really the only problem because otherwise the car feels good, the set-up is okay and I’m feeling good about my driving.”
Fiesta RS pilot Thierry Neuville was fifth fastest but felt lucky to have got through at all.
“Not a good stage, it was so rough and I was extremely careful in some places,” he said. “Then I made a little mistake on the exit of a corner, I hit a post and had to reverse to get going again. It cost me a couple of seconds but I lost my confidence a bit thinking that I didn’t want to retire here. But okay, we dropped a bit of time but at least we are here.”
Hirvonen’s Citroen team-mate Dani Sordo remained in the WRC doldrums. The Spaniard completed the stage 52.8sec slower than Ogier. “I’m not happy but its like that. I just don’t know why. The car is moving a lot, it’s impossible to drive,” he said.
Michal Kosciuszko arrived at the stage end with the left-hand rear wheel of his Mini knocked out of alignment. “I have no idea how that happened,” he said. “I didn’t go off the road. It shouldn’t be like that.”