Stage data: SS4, Pesells 2 (26.59 kilometres - gravel)
By Prodrive WRC Team co-driver Carlos del Barrio: “It’s a well known stage and also because of the dust last year when it was the first one of the rally. It’s very nice and we feel good there. We did good pace notes, good amendments during the recce. We are looking very confident for this stage. Most of the stage is the same as 2011 except for the last one kilometre, which you turn left for a new spectator area. But it doesn’t change the nature of the stage.”
How the action unfolded:
Evgeny Novikov revelled in the muddy conditions of stage four and set the fastest time for himself and the DMACK tyres, as Mads Ostberg stormed into a 26-second lead on the RallyRACC-Rally de Espana.
Although the torrential rain in Spain has stopped, the stages remain very slippery from the morning loop. That didn't suit the Citroens, but proved profitable for Ford men Novikov, Jari-Matti Latvala and Ostberg.
Novikov was quickest by 1.1s over Latvala, bringing his DMACK-shod Ford up to sixth overall. The Russian said he knew the wet stages would be his best chance to impress.
"It was a quite tricky and slippery stage, and I feel comfortable in those conditions, so I tried to attack," said Novikov.
Latvala remains fifth, but was relieved to at least be matching the lead pace after losing so much time on the first loop.
"I'm honestly trying to push," said the Ford World Rally Team driver. "The first 15 kilometres of the stage was fine, but after that it was really muddy and it was difficult to get the rhythm."
Ostberg's third-fastest time allowed him to extend his outright lead over Ott Tanak, who took things more cautiously, to 26s.
Tanak might have lost second place to Mikko Hirvonen, had the Citroen man not taken a trip off the road that left him 4s shy of Tanak at the end of the stage.
"We lost six or seven seconds at the end," said Hirvonen. "We went off on a corner, straight off the road into the bushes and then we had to reverse."
There were no such dramas for Hirvonen's team-mate Sebastien Loeb, yet he was still 17.6s off the fastest stage time and is now 35.5s away from the lead in fourth.
"I'm just trying to do what I can in the mud. I'm really trying hard. We cannot match the Fords," Loeb insisted.