Wednesday | 19 Oct 2016

Spain driver report: Part one

In the first of a two-part summary, we look back at how the dealing drivers coped on the gravel and Tarmac stages of RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España

Jari-Matti Latvala. Result: 14th.
This was an up and down rally for Jari-Matti [above]. Down because he crashed into a barrier on the opening day and retired, and up because when he returned on Saturday and Sunday he was revitalised and hugely impressive. Five stage wins gave us a glimpse of what might have been and underlined his potential ahead of the next round in Wales. "I have been lost for some rallies, now my confidence is back," he proclaimed. This should make the next couple of rallies interesting.

Thierry Neuville. Result: 3rd.
Neuville was an early leader before dropping a few places when he spun his Hyundai into a tree in SS5. Like all the Hyundai drivers he complained of understeer, but he kept the pressure on the leaders and grabbed third when Mikkelsen buckled on SS12. From then on, his target was to collect 15 points that would turbo-charge his bid for drivers' championship runner-up. Duly delivered his fifth top-three result of the year and his third consecutive podium.

Kris Meeke. Result: Retired.
An incident-packed appearance for the Briton, who managed only a handful of clean stages before retiring with an electrical issue on Sunday. Meeke caught the worst of Friday's torrential rain, and blamed water-filled ruts for a roll just three kilometres into the opening stage. On Saturday he collected two stage wins but also a puncture when cutting a corner. A sixth-gear spin later left him frustrated and pledging to cut down on silly mistakes. Mads

Mads Østberg. Result: 5th.
Gravel stages aside, this was another learning rally for Mads who has decided that the best way to improve his speed on Tarmac is to go back to basics and learn a new driving technique. Focusing on smoother lines and a more precise style, Mads seemed happy enough with his progression in Spain, although he rarely featured in the top five stage times.

Ott Tänak. Result 6th.
Tanak's finest moment was his stage win on Thursday's Barcelona street stage, but once the proper action got underway he fared less well. Like Østberg, Tanak was here to learn - but in his case the subject was his DMACK tyres. Tänak quickly found their limits, and while he acknowledged the value of the development information his team was gathering, he could do little to disguise his frustration at collecting it. Another driver keen to get back onto gravel in Wales.

Andreas Mikkelsen. Result: Retired.
On Saturday afternoon's first stage, the Norwegian was defending third place from Thierry Neuville when he pushed over the limit and slammed his Polo R into an Armco barrier. Mikkelsen and his co-driver Anders Jaeger escaped injury, but their car was beyond repair for Rally 2. Worse still, the early exit wiped out his advantage in the fight for the drivers' championship runner-up spot, much to the delight of Neuville. We’ll find out the full cost of his Spanish crash after Wales Rally GB.

Martin Prokop. Result: Retired.
A sad love story, this one. Prokop was taking a break from the WRC in order to prepare for Dakar, when a test drive in M-Sport's 2017 car reminded him where his true love lay. Tempted back for Spain, he found Friday's wet and muddy conditions tricky, and spent much of Saturday - his first day of Tarmac rallying for 12 months - playing catch up. Results wise, eighth place on Sunday morning was looking okay, until he took a wheel off and stopped two stages from home. Off now to concentrate on Dakar again, the signs are good that he'll be back in the WRC next year.


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