El Priorat is 4km shorter than 2012 but is a classic Rallye de España test. It is fast initially, and undulates throughout, the length requiring drivers to look after their tyres and brakes. The most recognisable section is the El Molar hairpin, where huge crowds line the road along the straight after the junction.
How the action unfolded:
Dani Sordo claimed his second win this morning in a Citroen DS3 to climb to second behind Sebastien Ogier on the Rally de Espana leaderboard.
Huge crowds gathered at the El Molar hairpin to roar on the Spaniard and he responded by beating Ogier by 2.9sec. He moved ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala by five-tenths of a second and reduced the margin from Ogier to 6.5sec.
Constant braking and hard cornering on the smooth asphalt placed huge demands on brakes and tyres. Data from the finish line showed brake temperatures on some cars exceeded 600°C, while figures for the tyres were over 100°C.
Such extremes required competitors to manage their driving style, as Sordo explained. “I couldn’t push more because there’s too much grip and the car moved. I tried to push, push because I knew Ogier was close, but at the same time I wanted to save the tyres,” he said.
Ogier echoed his rival’s thoughts and apparently dismissed any prospect of playing tactics later today to engineer a better running position for tomorrow’s gravel tests.
“It was a long stage and you can’t push all the way with the tyres. I don’t want to calculate and slow down tonight, I just have fun in the car and we will see. I say again, I’m not scared to open the road tomorrow,” said the Volkswagen Polo R pilot. Bluff or not?
Latvala was third in another Polo R, despite feeling uncomfortable on a newly-laid asphalt section midway through. “It lasts for 6-8km and I didn’t drive well. It was slippery and I didn’t find a rhythm with my braking,” said the Finn.
Mikko Hirvonen and Thierry Neuville were split by a second in the stage, although Neuville’s Ford Fiesta RS holds the upper hand over Hirvonen’s DS3 on the leaderboard by 3.6sec. However, the Belgian is still perplexed at his lack of pace.
“I’m pushing to the maximum but there’s nothing I can do for the moment. I don’t know why I’m losing time. I feel like I’m driving well so we must look at the settings. There’s something strange but I have no idea,” he explained.
Evgeny Novikov rounded off the top six, more than 17sec ahead of Qatar M-Sport team-mate Mads Ostberg, who is gradually coming to terms with his Fiesta RS.
“It felt a bit better. It’s not even close to enough, but it’s going in a better direction and I feel more comfortable. We’ll try to work a bit more on the car and see if that can help us,” said the Norwegian.
Just behind was World Rally Car debutant Hayden Paddon, the Kiwi still struggling with the rhythm in his Fiesta RS. “When I push the car understeers and if I back off to compensate, I don’t carry the corner speed. It’s a fine line but I haven’t found the answer yet,” he said.
Jose Suarez and Pontus Tidemand, second and third in the JWRC standings, rolled their Fiesta R2s at the same point early in the stage. Neither continued but no injuries were reported.