Stage description: The characteristics of this stage are as close to a race circuit as it is possible to get. It starts with great racing lines for the opening 4.2km up to the famous roundabout, where crews must do a complete 360 degree loop in front of huge crowds. From here its downhill on a narrow technical road, with a rock face on one side and barriers on the other, to the finish next to a reservoir.
How the event unfolded:
Dani Sordo and Jari-Matti Latvala set the same fastest time through Friday’s opening stage, ending Sebastien Ogier’s run of wins and setting the scene for a fascinating strategic battle during today’s all-asphalt competition.
Overnight leader Ogier was first to tackle the stage in his Volkswagen Polo R, but judging by his general demeanour at the finish control, it’s not a position he wants to be in by tonight, when the road order positions are decided for Sunday’s gravel stages.
“Sleeping all day, that’s my plan…” he joked. “I tried but I didn’t manage to go faster. It’s just my driving. It’s okay, but I’m not completely happy. I don’t know, the car was okay, maybe it’s the set-up..?” he said with a smile.
Latvala however felt it was too early to think about his Sunday options. “I’m going to drive stage-by-stage and at the end of the day, well, let’s see what we can do. There’s no other team strategy,” said the Finn.
Having dropped time deliberately on Friday night so he could monitor the progress of Volkswagens ahead today, Sordo was the fastest driver at the mid-point of SS3.
“The split said I was three seconds faster than Jari-Matti and, if that’s true, then it’s very strange that we ended with the same time,” the Spaniard explained. “My plan is to try and push hard, but I think it will be difficult to catch Jari-Matti because he is driving very well. The only thing we can do is go flat-out.”
Mikko Hirvonen was fourth fastest, 5.1sec slower than his Citroen team-mate Sordo, and feeling confident that he could unlock more speed from his DS3. “It’s okay but it was a lot more difficult to drive the car than it was yesterday. We made the set-up a little softer last night and maybe we went too far,” he said.
After struggling to find the right set-up for Friday’s stages, Ford Fiesta RS pilot Thierry Neuville was still confused when he arrived at the finish control after stage three. “I don’t know why, but I’m sliding everywhere, there’s no traction,” he explained. “I made a made a big push here but it’s not going right. I feel comfortable, but it’s not working.”
Neuville completed in the sixth fastest time and now lies fourth overall, 24.6sec off the lead.
Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen is out of today’s competition after breaking the suspension of his Volkswagen Polo R. “We were nearing the end on a slow left-hand corner when the rear of the car slid wide,” he explained. “The wheel dropped into a ditch and hit a stone. Something is broken back there now.”
Mikkelsen and co-driver Mikko Markkula parked their car at the stage end, unable to fix the broken component.
Hayden Paddon and Mads Ostberg were eighth and ninth fastest respectively, the Fiesta RS drivers both taking time to adjust their cars to the race track-like conditions.
“We made a lot of set-up changes in service last night, so we have to get used to how the car feels now,” said Paddon. “We’re still losing time in the tight corners but it should be better on the faster stages coming up.”
Ostberg meanwhile was still bothered by excessive understeer. “We tried to improve it, and I will talk to the team and see if we can do something. Maybe it will be better on the faster stages,” he said.