Dani Sordo mastered treacherous conditions to lead RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España on Friday night and set up hopes of a home victory for the first time in 21 years.
Torrential rain turned gravel tracks in the hills above the Costa Daurada into a mudbath, with aquaplaning a constant threat in water-filled ruts. But Sordo’s storming afternoon performance earned the Hyundai i20 pilot a 17.0sec lead over Sébastien Ogier.
Championship leader Ogier, bidding to seal a fourth consecutive world title here, and Thierry Neuville each led during the morning’s three speed tests. Sordo was sublime when they were repeated, winning two and placing second in the other to climb from fourth to first.
“This is a dream for me,” said Sordo, hoping to become the first Spaniard to win on home ground since Carlos Sainz in 1995. “I have to say thanks to the team for a great job with the car. Tomorrow we need to continue and see what we can do. Two long days to go, but today was unbelievable.”
Ogier endured the worst of the slimy roads from first in the start order and the Frenchman admitted his priority in the early afternoon stages was simply surviving in his Volkswagen Polo R.
Team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen completed the podium places, 18.1sec behind Ogier. The Norwegian overcame brake problems late in the day and twice slowed on stages when mistakenly believing he had a puncture.
Hyundai duo Neuville and Hayden Paddon were split by just 1.2sec in fourth and fifth. Neuville led after SS2 and was second when he spun on the inside of a SS5 corner, clipping a tree, removing the front bodywork and leaving his i20’s radiator exposed to the elements.
Paddon’s anti-lag system failed to work all day and the New Zealander was surprised not to lose more time. Mads Østberg was sixth after struggling with transmission problems in his Ford Fiesta RS.
Kris Meeke rolled his Citroën DS 3 in the opening stage after touching a bank. He recovered to seventh ahead of team-mate Craig Breen, who picked up a 10sec penalty after checking into a time control late when a tyre change took longer than expected. Ott Tänak and Eric Camilli completed the leaderboard in Ford Fiesta RS cars.
After a lacklustre start last night when he ceded 12sec in the Barcelona street stage, Jari-Matti Latvala revelled in the slippery conditions, winning two stages to climb to third. However, his Polo R was sidelined this afternoon with broken suspension.
Following an extended service tonight when teams switch their cars from dirt to asphalt specification, the final two days will be fought on sealed surface roads. Tomorrow drivers tackle eight tests, three of which are repeated, covering 139.18km.