Thierry Neuville was fastest out of the blocks on Sunday morning at YPF Rally Argentina to close the gap on leader Elfyn Evans.
Stage info: SS16
El Condor - Copina, 16.32km
One of the most famous roads in the WRC. Located in the Traslasierra mountains, it boasts stunning views in good weather, but fog and rain transform it into hell. At the start it winds around massive rocks, on which huge crowds perch roadside, before descending on a rough, rock-strewn road across famous iron bridges which hang from canyons. It is smoother near the end and drops 746 metres from start to finish.
The Belgian was faster through the famous El Condor speed test by 2.5sec in his Hyundai i20 to reduce the deficit to 9.0sec as Evans grappled with brake problems in his Ford Fiesta.
“It was quite slippery and I tried to be smooth and clean,” said Neuville. “It wasn’t a big, big push but it was a good stage. I didn’t make any mistakes and all went well for me.”
Evans was clearly concerned at the finish. “I had no brakes for half the stage. At the beginning it was going right to the floor and halfway through it came back, like some kind of miracle. I don’t know what’s going on,” he said.
Fastest time went to Ott Tänak, whose Fiesta stopped the clocks 1.3sec quicker than Neuville. The Estonian remained third overall, 14.0sec behind Neuville.
Craig Breen, returning after a day on the sidelines yesterday, Sébastien Ogier and road opener Dani Sordo completed the top six times.
El Condor was where Hayden Paddon secured his maiden victory 12 months ago, but the situation could not be more different for the sixth-placed Kiwi this time. “The car is not working like last year on this road. It’s world’s apart. I can’t drive it straight or keep it in the middle of the road,” he said.
Huge crowds perched high above the road to gain the best vantage point at the start of the stage, generating a crackling atmosphere as drivers threaded their way through the massive roadside rocks. “It’s unbelievable in there,” said Sordo.