Hyundai’s Dani Sordo fought off championship-chasing Ott Tänak though Sunday morning’s opening two speed tests at RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España to give a massive helping hand to team-mate Thierry Neuville.
Stage info: SS14/15
SS14: Riudecanyes 1, 16.35km
Best known for the famous roundabout at Coll de la Teixeta, soon after the start, where drivers complete a 360 degree donut in front of huge crowds packed on the hillsides. Much of the stage is downhill, and the opening part to Duesaigües is twisty and complicated. After passing under the landmark railway bridge, the road becomes flatter and faster, before skirting Riudecanyes reservoir and onto the finish.
SS15: La Mussara 1, 20.72km
La Mussara is driven in the reverse direction to 2014, when it last featured in the rally. It is corner after corner initially, with a series of uphill hairpins keeping the pace relatively slow. It remains technical for the most part, but the pace increases, especially on a very long straight in the second half. The last major challenge is a hairpin 1km from the end.
The Spaniard, second overnight behind his colleague, started 3.1sec clear of third-placed Tänak. He is desperate to hold the Estonian at bay to keep Neuville’s title hopes alive and enhance Hyundai’s manufacturers’ championship lead over Tänak’s Toyota team.
He extended the advantage by 0.4sec after going second fastest in Riudecanyes in his i20 World Rally Car. He added another second by winning the following La Mussara test to return to the mid-leg service with a 4.5sec margin over Tänak’s Yaris.
“It’s not a lot but it’s better than nothing,” said Sordo. “I tried to push but Ott wants to take second place. I lost a little bit of time in some dirty places and it’s very fast. It’s not such a big gap but we’re still here.”
Tänak, who could secure his maiden title today, was trying to strike a balance between outright pace and not taking risks. “We need to finish the rally. When it gets fast we are on all new notes so there is not so much confidence to carry the speed,” he said.
Neuville won Riudecanyes but was only sixth in La Mussara, returning to service with a comfortable 17.5sec lead over Sordo.
“I tried to be very efficient but at some point I had so many pace note corrections that I got slightly confused and had to find the concentration and calm down. I was struggling with the brakes as well, so I didn’t take any risks,” explained the Belgian.
If the overall positions stay as they are, Neuville must score two more points than Tänak in the closing Wolf Power Stage to take the fight to the final round in Australia next month.
Sébastien Loeb fell away from the podium battle in fourth. Having restarted just 0.6sec behind Tänak, the nine-time world champion struggled for pace on the smooth asphalt roads and was only ninth in both tests, falling 19.7sec adrift.
Jari-Matti Latvala retained fifth in another Yaris and halved his overnight deficit to Loeb to 10.1sec. Elfyn Evans completed the top six in a Ford Fiesta.