Sébastien Ogier halved the deficit to leader Dani Sordo after winning the last two speed tests of Saturday morning’s loop at RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España.
Stage info: SS10/11
SS10: Querol 1, 21.26km
After two years out of the itinerary, Querol is back. It starts in the village of Pontils and the road is narrow but well-surfaced until the Esblada junction near the midpoint. From that point, it becomes narrower as the stage descends through Querol to the finish near Pont d’Armentera.
SS11: El Montmell 1, 24.14km
El Montmell is another stage back after a few years’ absence. The surface is good but narrow throughout, and there are some very high-speed cuts to focus the drivers’ minds. The opening section is extremely quick, with a chicane before Can Ferrer de la Cogullada to reduce speeds. After the village, the route becomes twistier before finishing with a dizzying bend-filled descent known as Les Ventoses.
The Frenchman, bidding to seal his fourth consecutive world title, upped his pace to win both the Querol and El Montmell special stages and slash the gap from 17.5sec to 7.7sec as drivers returned to Salou for mid-leg service.
Ogier distanced Sordo by 3.0sec in Querol before punching in a time 6.8sec faster in El Montmell, and then admitted there was more to come.
“I’m driving hard but it’s not perfect. I know I could be a little bit better. I’m not ready to go for full risk yet, I’m not absolutely on the limit,” said the Volkswagen Polo R pilot, who added that some sections were still damp despite the glorious sunshine beating down.
Sordo was second fastest in both tests but cut a frustrated figure at the end of El Montmell. “The car’s understeering a lot. It’s impossible, but I’m trying my best, I can’t do more. Querol was very dirty in places, conditions were much better for the first cars,” said the Hyundai i20 driver.
Andreas Mikkelsen retained third, but slipped 37.4sec behind Ogier, after finishing sixth in both tests. The Norwegian was also fighting understeer in his Polo R, resorting to the handbrake to pull his car around corners more frequently than he liked.
Hyundai i20 duo Thierry Neuville and Hayden Paddon were fourth and fifth. Neuville said understeer was a problem in the tighter parts while a wrong pace note spoiled his concentration in El Montmell. The gap between them was 12.9sec.
Kris Meeke overhauled Mads Østberg for sixth, despite the rear of his Citroën DS 3 sliding around with one soft tyre fitted after an earlier puncture. Ott Tänak, Eric Camilli and Kevin Abbring completed the leaderboard.