Sébastien Ogier takes a lead of almost a minute into Sunday’s final leg of RallyRACC Catalunya - Costa Daurada in Spain after a mistake from team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala eased the pressure.
Ogier extended his 4.0sec overnight advantage to 11.0sec during Saturday’s opening two stages as second-placed Latvala fought brake problems on his Volkswagen Polo R.
Having resolved them, the Finn attacked in the next test but an over-ambitious cut soon after the start proved his undoing. He hit a concrete block, smashed a wheel and lost 50sec driving the final 10km with a flat tyre.
It left Ogier clear, and three wins from four morning tests meant he could relax to reach the overnight halt with a 54.0sec advantage. He added a further two stage wins this afternoon to his tally.
“It’s been a fun day,” said Ogier. “The car was perfect so it was fantastic to drive these great stages. Since I had a bigger gap over Jari-Matti I took it easier, especially in the dirty places, but when it was cleaner I still pushed. But we still have to negotiate 80km tomorrow.”
After yesterday’s mainly gravel roads, today was all about smooth circuit-like asphalt in the Tarragona hills and Latvala raced back from fourth to second by winning three of the final five stages.
Dani Sordo inherited second after Latvala’s drama but was ill at ease with an understeering Hyundai i20. Andreas Mikkelsen climbed steadily from sixth to demote him this afternoon and finish 2.9sec behind Latvala, giving Volkswagen a 1-2-3, and 4.5 sec ahead of the Spaniard.
Understeer was a common complaint this morning and Mads Østberg described his early progress as ‘horrible’. The day improved for the Norwegian until he stalled his Citroën DS 3’s engine in the final stage to drop behind team-mate Kris Meeke into sixth.
A frustrated Meeke spent much of the day trying to perfect his set-up but the Ulsterman nevertheless climbed from eighth to fifth.
Hayden Paddon lost time after twice puncturing and that dropped the Kiwi into the clutches of fellow i20 driver Thierry Neuville. The Belgian was another to struggle with handling problems but the pair ended tied for seventh.
Martin Prokop and WRC 2 leader Pontus Tidemand completed the leaderboard.
M-Sport had a disastrous day. Firstly Ott Tänak retired from third after ripping a wheel from his Ford Fiesta RS when he hit a barrier and team-mate Elfyn Evans went out after nosing his car into a ditch [below]. The Fiesta was undamaged but stuck.
Stéphane Lefebvre retired his DS 3 just metres after leaving service this morning with brake problems while Lorenzo Bertelli crashed out for the second day in the opening stage.
Sunday’s final leg features two identical loops of three asphalt tests covering 76.40km. The final live TV Duesaigües Power Stage offers bonus points for the fastest three drivers.