Sébastien Ogier ended Kris Meeke’s run of victories by edging to fastest time through Friday afternoon’s opening speed test at the Che Guevara Energy Drink Tour de Corse.
Stage info: SS3
Pietrosella - Albitreccia 2, 31.20km
There’s no easy start as drivers are greeted by some of Corsica’s toughest roads. Last year’s opening 26km have been replaced by a new 7.40km section that follows a twisty, bumpy road before joining the 2016 route at the famous Pietrosella hairpin. 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 won both morning stages but Ogier fought back to stop the clocks 0.8sec quicker in the repeat pass through the west coast test from Pietrosella to Albitreccia. The gap between the duo was 8.1sec with one stage remaining in the opening leg.
“It’s a bit better,” said Ogier. “I still don’t have the car I’m dreaming of, so I have to fight because I can’t do exactly as I like. I’m fighting like I can with it.”
Meeke remained happy, the Briton finding a good rhythm in his Citroën C3 but conceding time when he slowed at the corner where Ott Tänak slid off the road. Tänak’s Ford Fiesta was reportedly stuck in a ditch shortly after the start, the Estonian retiring from fourth.
Thierry Neuville was third for the third stage in a row to lie 14.5sec behind Ogier in the standings. Both Neuville and Hyundai i20 Coupe team-mate Dani Sordo, now up to fourth, were at a loss to explain their times, believing their driving to be better than the clock showed.
Craig Breen separated the i20 duo in the stage. The Irishman fine-tuned his C3’s differential settings to improve the handling after almost being caught out early in the test.
Jari-Matti Latvala completed the top six in a Toyota Yaris, the Finn slightly happier with his driving but ‘still not as good as I expected’.
Hayden Paddon finished with rear damage to his i20 after sliding into a rock. Elfyn Evans conceded almost two minutes as he continued to struggle with hydraulic problems in his Fiesta and Stéphane Lefebvre reported his C3’s gearchange paddle shift had worked loose.