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:
More than 42km of furious driving on the smoothest asphalt in the WRC calendar - and just one-tenth of a second separated Dani Sordo and Jari-Matti Latvala at the finish line in the village of La Palma d’Ebre in the sun-drenched Catalan hills.
One of the longest asphalt tests of the season did, however, provide a single leader. After starting the test tied for first overall, Latvala was the quicker of the two in his Volkswagen Polo R to take the narrowest of advantages over Sordo’s Citroen DS3.
“I was pushing very hard,” admitted the Finn. “I had a good rhythm but lost out again in the same area as this morning, in the new asphalt section. But it was better than the first pass. The temperature is higher and there’s more understeer, so it’s harder for the tyres,” said Latvala, whose time was almost 10sec slower than the first run.
Latvala and Sordo were rarely covered by more than a few tenths of a second in the test, but the Spaniard insisted he did not receive the Finn’s split times into his car.
“I didn’t have any splits from Jari-Matti,” he told WRC Live. “I followed the splits from Sebastien Ogier. I promise on my mother!” said Sordo.
Ahead of the duo in the stage, but only by six-tenths of a second, was the Polo R of Ogier. The Frenchman was relatively tight-lipped, giving rise to all kinds of speculation about possible team orders within the Volkswagen squad.
“There are some cuts in the corners but we had information from the gravel crew,” said Ogier, who displaced Mikko Hirvonen and Evgeny Novikov to climb to fourth.
Fourth fastest Thierry Neuville was happier, the Belgian content with the handling of his Ford Fiesta RS for the first time this weekend.
“It’s not understeering any more. I like the balance and the feeling is very different. The car is oversteering more than understeering and it seems to be quick. I had to find my marks again with a car I like, and I had to be careful with the brakes and tyres. I can’t push too much, otherwise I won’t finish,” he said.
Hirvonen was fifth, 7.9sec slower than Ogier, and is 1.6sec behind in his DS3. “We were close to the pace of Ogier at the start but at the end the tyres started to move so much I thought something was broken,” he explained.
Evgeny Novikov was sixth, ahead of Mads Ostberg and Hayden Paddon, both of whom were happier after making improvements to their Fiesta RS cars at service.