Kris Meeke’s hopes of challenging Sébastien Ogier at the head of the Che Guevara Energy Drink Tour de Corse leaderboard went flat after he stopped to change a puncture in Friday afternoon’s opening speed test.
Stage info: SS3
Acqua Doria - Albitreccia 2, 49.72km
The afternoon kicks off with some of Corsica’s toughest roads. This one is a second pass of SS1 and climbs from the coast to Tassinca village on asphalt that is fast in places and twisty in others, before crossing the Col de Gradello and onto the famous Pietrosella hairpin via a worn and bumpy surface. It’s onwards and upwards along a poorly surfaced road to the legendary Col de Bellevalle hairpin. It widens on the climb to Bisinao, before a narrow road with many surface changes leads to the finish in Albitreccia.
Meeke started the second pass of the 49.72km marathon less than 15sec behind Ogier, and was tied with the Frenchman at the first split after 8.20km. However, a puncture on Citroën’s DS 3 forced Meeke to stop and replace the wheel.
He restarted seconds after team-mate Craig Breen passed and followed the Irishman to the finish, conceding 2min 27.2sec to Ogier and any realistic chance of victory.
“We had a puncture early on, no idea where,” said Meeke. “We decided to stop and restarted just after Craig went by. We caught him within another kilometre which was a bit frustrating. When the dust came up from his car I couldn’t see the road, but I didn’t want to disturb his rally.”
Ogier demoralised his rivals by winning the stage, his third consecutive fastest time, by 15.0sec in his Volkswagen Polo R. “It was very hot and the tyres were moving a lot. I tried to save them but I didn’t have a rhythm and couldn’t really push. It was tough but enjoyable,” he said.
Thierry Neuville was second fastest to replace Meeke in second overall in his Hyundai i20. He was happier with the handling and brakes than this morning but astonished at Ogier’s pace.
A revitalised Jari-Matti Latvala was third, despite fighting with the brakes in his Polo R for the final 20km. It propelled the Finn from seventh to fourth, 6.2sec behind Dani Sordo’s i20.
Craig Breen was distracted by glimpses of the chasing Meeke but moved up to sixth, relegating Hayden Paddon, who was also overtaken by Latvala and Mikkelsen. Paddon overheated the front tyres on his i20 shortly after the midpoint while Mikkelsen, like many, struggled with brake issues late in the stage in the high temperatures.
Mads Østberg was overhauled by Eric Camilli after problems with the brake cooling in his Ford Fiesta RS, while Lorenzo Bertelli yielded more than four minutes with broken intercom.