Ott Tänak fulfilled his pre-event promise of all-out attack to charge into the lead of RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España on Friday morning.
Stage info: SS2/3
SS2: Gandesa 1, 7.00km
Friday’s shortest test is driven in the opposite direction to last year. After an initial 700 metres of asphalt, it runs on gravel throughout, descending all the way from the start outside Gandesa to the village of Bot. It flows nicely on a solid surface, but there are several rocks lying on the inside of the early asphalt corners.
SS3: Pesells 1, 26.59km
Pesells is very fast throughout, running mostly on an excellent gravel surface but with several short stretches of asphalt to add an extra challenge. There is standing water in places and a short rough section at 10km where the road narrows and becomes more difficult. The final 4km are twistier, with a tricky hairpin immediately before the finish.
The Estonian must win this weekend to keep his WRC title hopes alive. Fastest time in the short opening Gandesa speed test and second quickest in the longer Pesells left his Toyota Yaris with a 6.1sec advantage over team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala.
“It’s so slippery at the front of the start order, very, very loose, but I can’t complain too much. I’m trying to be clean and use everything I have to my advantage,” he said.
A surprised Latvala topped the times in Pesells, 1.9sec up on Tänak, and said: “I didn’t know if I was driving too slow or too fast. We were going sideways a lot but it seems to be working. Our confidence is improving step-by-step,” he said.
Third in both stages represented a good start for Elfyn Evans. The Ford Fiesta driver was 1.8sec behind Latvala and 4.0sec to the good over local hero Dani Sordo’s Hyundai i20.
The gravel tracks proved slippery for all and various tyre options involving Michelin’s hard and mixed compound rubber were on view as drivers attempted to calculate which mix would work best over the three tests.
Sébastien Ogier slid wide into a field in Pesells after an over-optimistic pace note and the Fiesta driver was sixth, already 18.6sec behind pace-setter Tänak and 2.5sec adrift of Craig Breen’s Citroën C3.
Ogier had 2.0sec in hand over road opener Thierry Neuville. The series leader opted for a mix of hard and soft rubber, acknowledging he would lose time in Gandesa and Pesells but confident he would benefit in the long La Fatarella - Vilalba test which ends the loop.
It was a disappointing opening for Esapekka Lappi. Locking brakes hampered the Finn and he drifted off the road in Gandesa, smashing his Yaris’ windscreen. He was 10th.