Thierry Neuville held a commanding lead in the Che Guevara Energy Drink Tour de Corse after a dramatic second leg on Saturday.
The Belgian starts Sunday’s finale with a 38.9sec advantage over Sébastien Ogier after engine problems sidelined Kris Meeke from the lead and mechanical troubles blunted Ogier’s attack as he seemed destined to pounce.
Neuville will hope history does not repeat itself tomorrow. He crashed his Hyundai i20 Coupe when leading in the opening two rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship season in Monte-Carlo and Sweden.
He won three of the four asphalt speed tests in the mountains of northern Corsica, leapfrogging both Meeke and Ogier in this morning’s second test.
Meeke’s 16sec lead was wiped out as his Citroën C3 coasted to the finish with smoke billowing from its engine. With Ogier struggling to find a good feeling in his Ford Fiesta, Neuville swept into a near-10sec lead.
A rejuvenated Ogier regained much of that in the opening afternoon test after set-up changes transformed his car’s handling, only for hydraulic problems to leave him limping through the final stage.
“We were able to set good times today, we were very strong. I pushed hard in the final stage to try to increase the lead a bit more and then Ogier had his problem. Tomorrow will be tough though,” Neuville said.
Ogier had kept his troubles a secret. “At the end of SS7 we lost hydraulic pressure so I knew the problem was starting. The target was to finish the day and get back to service. We had no gearshift and no differentials so it was like a proper rear-wheel drive car!” he said.
Dani Sordo climbed to third in another i20, almost a minute off the lead. The Spaniard remained frustrated, confident in his driving but disappointed with his times.
He was 11.7sec ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala, whose pace improved when he changed the transmission set-up on his Toyota Yaris. Both Sordo and Latvala overhauled Craig Breen, who drove one stage with no pace notes after intercom failure.
Hayden Paddon completed the top six in an i20, admitting he was in ‘no man’s land’ with large time gaps in front and behind.
WRC 2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen was seventh with Teemu Suninen, Stephane Sarrazin and Yohan Rossel completing the leaderboard.
Elfyn Evans retired after crashing his Ford Fiesta down a bank and Stéphane Lefebvre also went out after hitting a bridge in his Citroën C3.
Sunday’s final leg comprises just two stages before the finish in Porto-Vecchio, but features a sting in the tail.
It opens with the longest test of the weekend, a marathon 53.78km, before the Power Stage finale, with bonus points for the fastest five drivers.