Dani Sordo delighted his legion of Spanish fans by rocketing into the lead of RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España with a blistering performance through Friday afternoon’s slimy opening speed test.
Stage info: SS5
The early part of Caseres, which starts in the village of the same name, is fast and narrow. After a junction in Arenys de Lledó, an undulating, but wider, road heads through a wind farm and on to a tricky hairpin before the finish, where drivers must brake on gravel before turning left on dirty asphalt. Identical to the stage used in 2015.
Although the morning rain had stopped, the gravel tracks remained treacherously muddy and virtually every driver rated them more difficult than during the earlier pass.
Conditions improved for the later starters and Sordo blasted through the stage in his Hyundai i20 4.1sec quicker than Kevin Abbring. More importantly he was 16.3sec quicker than leader Sébastien Ogier to climb from fourth to head the Frenchman by 6.1sec.
Jari-Matti Latvala’s charge into third came to an abrupt stop when the Finn parked his Volkswagen Polo R near the stage finish with damaged suspension (pictured below).
Despite setting third fastest time, Østberg was unhappy with his Ford Fiesta RS. “It’s pulling in different directions when I accelerate and when I brake,” said the Norwegian.
Lorenzo Bertelli took full advantage of the improving conditions to finish fourth in his Ford Fiesta RS, with Kris Meeke and Hayden Paddon completing the top six times. Paddon had been unable to repair his i20’s engine issues and was surprised to be so quick.
He was up to fourth overall, just 0.3sec behind a wide-eyed Andreas Mikkelsen.
“I thought the first time through the stage was tricky but now I was a passenger many, many times,” said the Norwegian. “The surface is more greasy and muddy. You have grip, but then you lose it. It was like that this morning, but now it’s 100 times worse.”
Thierry Neuville plunged from second overall to fifth after spinning on the inside of a corner and stalling the engine. His i20’s front bumper was missing at the finish leaving the radiator exposed to the elements.