Sébastien Ogier’s stage-winning run at the Che Guevara Energy Drink Tour de Corse was finally broken on Saturday morning’s opening stage when Kris Meeke topped the times through the toughest speed test of this second leg.
Stage info: SS5
La Porta - Valle di Rostino 1, 53.72km
A legendary stage that has not been driven in its full format for several years. A technical uphill section from the Pont de Rimitorio start ends at La Porta church, before twisty and bumpy roads run through Giocatojo and up to the Col Saint Antoine. The descent on new and older asphalt heads through several villages before climbing again to Campile. A twistier road tracks the mountainside before a series of abrasive downhill hairpins leads to the finish.
Ogier won all four special stages yesterday but a stunning drive from Meeke enabled the Northern Irishman crush his rivals by a massive 17.0sec through the marathon 53.72km test.
“I really thought I was slow. The road was so dirty. Everything in my mind is focused on 2017 and if I can do that in this car, then it’s looking good for next year,” said the Citroën DS 3 pilot, who climbed to eighth overall as he continued his recovery from yesterday’s puncture.
Andreas Mikkelsen also beat Ogier, the Norwegian 0.3sec quicker than his Volkswagen Polo R team-mate. He moved ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala, who struggled with his pace notes, into third but the effort took its toll.
“It’s the most tiring stage I’ve ever done, corner after corner after corner. It’s a proper challenge,” said Mikkelsen, who explained the difficulties of knowing how hard to push on such a long stage where tyre and brake management is so crucial.
Ogier lost time near the start after a mistake at a hairpin but still increased his lead over second-placed Thierry Neuville, who was sixth fastest in his Hyundai i20, to 52.6sec.
“I had a bad start. I was too cautious, too slippery maybe. I didn’t want to take too many risks because it’s a risky stage for punctures. I don’t need to push so I tried to drive cleanly,” he said.
Craig Breen was fourth despite believing his driving was ‘terrible’, while Hayden Paddon overheated his i20’s brakes in the opening 15km and had no confidence in his car’s stopping power for the final two-thirds of the test.