Kubica struggles in Saturday's opener
Differential problems hamper Polish driver
Escaladei 1, 50.00km
The weekend’s keynote test covers exactly 50km to mark the rally’s half-century, and the final 24km have not been used since 2002. It includes the famous El Molar hairpin at 9.40km, which attracts huge crowds. It is undulating, fast and smooth until the final 7km section on older, narrower roads with sharp edges.
The Finn was third through the 50.00km test in his Ford Fiesta RS, outpacing Mikkelsen by more than 12sec and almost 20sec faster than Østberg.
“I’m quite happy with that!” said a delighted Hirvonen. “It was a little damp in some corners but no dramas.”
Mikkelsen fell victim to a narrow section before the finish. “About 7km from the end I spun. It was very slippery and I had a lot of understeer. I can’t do much more than I’m doing at the moment,” said the Norwegian.
Fellow countryman Østberg was equally deflated having slipped from third to fifth this morning. “It was a tricky stage, and quite hard to find a rhythm. I started badly and could never come back,” said the Citroen DS3 pilot.
Jari-Matti Latvala was fastest in his Volkswagen Polo R, the Finn 2.0sec faster than team-mate and leader Sébastien Ogier, despite feeling uncomfortable on the narrow roads.
Ogier echoed his colleague’s feelings. “It was very tricky in the narrow section and we took it a bit easy,” said the Frenchman. “But it was a good stage and I’m happy with my speed. I followed Jari-Matti’s split times all the way.”
Road opener Kris Meeke hit a rock in the first corner and stopped to change a punctured tyre, dropping more than two minutes in his DS3. Robert Kubica lost more than 2min 30sec as he limped through with just front-wheel drive on his Fiesta RS after breaking a rear differential before the previous stage.