A repeat of this morning’s opening test, this stage was first used in this direction last year. Fast, with plenty of high speed straights, it climbs to 2247 metres. It starts on a smooth, wide road but after 1.7km the surface changes from gravel to cobble stones. The cobbles run for 10kms before the surface reverts to gravel all the way to the finish.
How the action unfolded:
Sebastien Ogier claimed his third consecutive stage victory and looks increasingly comfortable at the top of the leaderboard with his advantage now up to 24.1sec.
The Frenchman won the stage by 3.7sec in his Volkswagen Polo R. Conditions were cleaner and more grippy than this morning and Ogier emphasised that by completing the test almost seven seconds faster than previously.
The downside of more grip is the potential for tyres to wear more quickly. However, Ogier seemed unperturbed and pointed to the presence of two hard compound spares in the rear of the car as a safety net.
Thierry Neuville claimed second fastest, the Belgian now receiving the split times of his rivals into his Fiesta RS. Such was his pace that he has closed to within 0.4sec of relegating Mikko Hirvonen from the final step of the podium.
Evgeny Novikov was third in the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team Fiesta RS, the Russian admitting that his problems this morning meant his targets were limited. “I just have to keep going. There was good grip in the lines but if you go out of the lines then it’s not so good,” he said.
Hirvonen and Mads Ostberg were tied for fourth, the Finn at a loss to understand why his time was not better.
“I don’t know why I’m so slow on this stage,” said the Citroen Total Abu Dhabi team leader. “I thought I drove well, especially at the end.”
Ostberg was also concerned at his time, although if this morning is any guide, the set-up of his Fiesta RS is more suited to the following two tests. He was fastest on both in the first pass.
“It was very difficult to find my rhythm. I’m trying to drive cleanly and use the whole road but it’s not easy,” said the Norwegian.
Nasser Al-Attiyah completed the top six, the Qatari happier with the cleaner line this afternoon, but less pleased with the number of large rocks he encountered.
Martin Prokop was struggling as co-driver Michal Ernst was feeling unwell. “He has no power and is losing concentration,” said Prokop.