Friday | 02 Oct 2015

Evans holds surprise lead in Corsica

Elfyn Evans was the shock leader after Friday’s truncated opening leg of Tour de Corse – Rallye de France in which appalling weather forced the cancellation of one speed test.

The Welshman, who has endured a torrid recent run, won the last stage in his Ford Fiesta RS to leap from sixth to first. He was 18.7sec clear of another surprise package, Kevin Abbring, with Jari-Matti Latvala completing the top three a further 4.2sec behind.

More than 24 hours of heavy rain flooded parts of the Corsican countryside. Rivers burst their banks and torrents of water poured down the craggy mountains as a medicane, a rare weather phenomenon similar to a tropical storm, hit the Mediterranean island.

The opening stage near Ajaccio ran without interruption, but as the 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship headed north to Corte conditions worsened. The 43.69km second stage was cancelled as storm debris littered the narrow, twisty asphalt roads.

The third and final stage was held as planned but conditions were dreadful. Drivers battled streaming water, mud and damaged roads and simply surviving was an achievement.

But Evans excelled to lead a WRC event for the first time and paid tribute to his route note crew, father and former British champion Gwyndaf and 2003 world champion co-driver Phil Mills, who provided advice on conditions before Evans tackled the stages.

Latvala (left) ended the day second while a puncture dropped Ogier to tenth

“I’m a bit surprised,” he admitted. “The first stage was difficult, but not due to the conditions as it had dried a lot. In the last stage I had a good rhythm but when there’s that much water, gravel and dirt you concentrate on staying on the road rather than attacking.”  

Abbring is driving only his second asphalt event in a World Rally Car and second fastest time in the last stage promoted his Hyundai i20 from seventh to second.

Latvala adopted a risk-free policy in his Volkswagen Polo R to head Citroën’s Mads Østberg in fourth by 15.9sec. The Norwegian reported no ill-effects from the rib injury that ruled him out of the previous round in Australia.

Robert Kubica shared the lead with Sébastien Ogier after the opening test, despite being unhappy with his Fiesta RS’ set-up. But the Pole slipped to fifth, 1.5sec behind Østberg and 2.8sec clear of previous Corsica winner Stéphane Sarrazin.

Andreas Mikkelsen was seventh after struggling with his car’s brakes, with Kris Meeke, Bryan Bouffier and Ogier completing the leaderboard. Ogier plunged down the order after changing a rear-left puncture in SS3 after showing stunning pace early in the test.

Dani Sordo dropped two minutes after hitting a rock and puncturing, but Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville encountered worse. He hit a bridge 1.2km into the first test and retired with broken rear right suspension.

After overnighting in Bastia, competitors face three stages tomorrow covering 128.58km. This afternoon’s cancelled test begins the action and is followed by a repeat of the final test and a monster 48.46km stage, the longest of the event.

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