Sébastien Ogier remained firmly in control of the Che Guevara Energy Drink Tour de Corse after a risk-free strategy during Saturday’s second leg.
He won two of the four mountain road speed tests near Bastia during the longest leg of the arduous three-day asphalt event. But as conditions deteriorated late in the day, the Frenchman measured his pace and will take a 46.5sec lead into Sunday’s finale.
After winning all four of Friday’s special stages, Ogier’s run ended in the opening test. He bounced back to win the next two, widening his lead to just under a minute, before throttling back in the rain to end with a comfortable advantage.
With just two wet weather soft compound Michelin tyres available, Ogier mixed them with two hard compound tyres in a crossover pattern to provide maximum grip on the wet asphalt.
“I just wanted to finish the day in the tricky conditions,” he explained. “It was really cruising for us. Crossing the tyres means that the car oversteers on one side and understeers on the other, but at least we had some traction and brake performance in the wet.”
Thierry Neuville was second, winning the final stage despite a scare when his Hyundai i20 slid wide onto some stones. The Belgian improved his car’s handling by modifying the differential in the mid-leg service and distanced Andreas Mikkelsen in their fight for second.
The Norwegian was only 5.4sec behind at Saturday’s midpoint in his Polo R, but the gap increased to 21.5sec. Mikkelsen narrowly escaped clipping some cows this morning and admitted overheating his tyres and losing grip in the penultimate test.
Day-long brake problems frustrated Jari-Matti Latvala, who succumbed to Mikkelsen’s pace and yielded third in the opening test. He trailed by more half a minute but had over 20sec in hand over Craig Breen, the Irishman excelling on his asphalt World Rally Car debut.
Hayden Paddon retained sixth, but the New Zealander was deeply unsatisfied with his driving. Hyundai team-mate Dani Sordo recovered to seventh after yesterday’s puncture, and Ford Fiesta trio Eric Camilli, Mads Østberg and WRC 2 leader Elfyn Evans completed the leaderboard.
Kris Meeke stopped Ogier’s winning run by topping the times in the opening stage. However, his day ended early when he was caught out by a tightening bend 400 metres into the next test, having speeded up his pace notes, and slid into a tree.
Sunday’s finale comprises just two stages but has a sting in the tail. The opening 53.78km test is the longest of the weekend and the rally ends with the live TV Power Stage, offering bonus points to the fastest three drivers.