Elfyn Evans continued to lead YPF Rally Argentina after Saturday morning’s three special stages but two punctures allowed Thierry Neuville to eat into his advantage.
Stage info: SS11 / 12
SS11: Los Gigantes - Cantera El Condor 1, 38.68km
Los Gigantes has previously hosted the Dakar Rally. It covers barren and remote territory as it peaks at 1912 metres after 12.40km of climbing from the start on bumpy, sandy and twisty roads. After reaching the top, the stage becomes fast and flowing on a clay surface, with few reference points in the wide open environment. There are plenty of cows, horses and sheep roaming the hills and fog is a distinct possibility.
SS12: Boca del Arroyo - Bajo del Pungo 1, 20.52km
This stage was driven competitively last year after much of it had been used as a liaison section previously. The major hazards are concrete gutters which cross the road, allowing water to flow over the track without washing the surface away. There are 11 in total and nine in just one single 2.5km section! There is plenty to hit on the road sides and anyone running wide could be punished hard.
After extending his lead to over a minute in the opening speed test, Evans lost nearly six seconds to the Belgian in Los Gigantes - Cantera El Condor after a slow puncture on the front left of his Ford Fiesta.
He dropped nearly 12sec in the following Boca del Arroyo - Bajo del Pungo and the gap stood at 44.1sec as crews returned to Villa Carlos Paz for service. “I got a bit lost in the pace notes, just went wide into a corner and picked up a rear puncture,” he admitted.
Neuville, who had no spare wheel after puncturing himself in the opener, denied he was targeting Evans in his Hyundai i20 Coupe.
“I knew I couldn’t puncture any more tyres, so the big rocks I could drive around, but most of the time there was only one clean line. We’re not focused on Evans. The main goal is to stay ahead of Ogier for the championship,” said Neuville.
Mads Østberg restored the hydraulic problems that hindered him in the opener but the loss of his Fiesta’s rear diffuser remained a problem.
“The handbrake and everything is working now, but without the rear diffuser I’m losing time in the fast sections. It cost me time in Los Gigantes, but this last one was more twisty so not so bad,” said the Norwegian, who was second fastest and 8.9sec behind Neuville overall.
Ott Tänak was hard on Østberg’s heels, just 4.1sec behind after demoting a despondent Sébastien Ogier to fifth in Los Gigantes. Tänak spun twice in Boca del Arroyo but still widened the gap over his team-mate to 14.5sec. Ogier described his Fiesta as ‘undriveable’.
Jari-Matti Latvala boosted his confidence by softening his Toyota Yaris’ rear suspension and completed the top six, 14.1sec behind Ogier and comfortably ahead of Hayden Paddon.
Lorenzo Bertelli climbed to eighth, relegating Juho Hänninen who suffered the same power loss problems as yesterday. WRC 2 leader Pontus Tidemand rounded off the leaderboard.
Kris Meeke, returning under Rally 2 rules after his team did a marvellous rebuild of his Citroën C3 after yesterday’s roll, was fastest in both stages.