Jari-Matti Latvala bounced back from yesterday’s retirement to win Saturday morning’s opening two speed tests at RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España.
Stage info: SS8 / SS9
SS8: Vilaplana, 6.28km
Saturday’s opener welcomes drivers to the asphalt part of the rally. Vilaplana is a new stage but runs along a road filled with history, borrowing a section of the well-known La Mussara tests but driven in the opposite direction. It starts in Vilaplana village, but the highlight is a twisty ascent to the La Mussara mountain range via a string of hairpin bends.
SS9: Alcover - Capafonts 1, 19.93km
The same stage as last year’s Capafonts test, but in the opposite direction. The opening section covers a fast and wide road but on broken asphalt. It becomes narrower at the midpoint, near the village of Mont-ral, as the surface also improves. After a twisty section through trees, the stage becomes flatter before the finish in Capafonts.
The Finn, who was sidelined after hitting a barrier and breaking his Volkswagen Polo R’s suspension, was two-tenths of a second quicker than Kris Meeke in the opening Vilaplana. He was 0.7sec up on leader Dani Sordo in the following test from Alcover to Capafonts.
Saturday dawned bright and sunny, in contrast to yesterday’s torrential rain. The special stages were different too. The mud-caked gravel tracks replaced by fast, wide and smooth asphalt, although the roads were damp in places.
“The car is fantastic and I have a very good feeling. I was very disappointed yesterday. I wasn’t too fast, I just turned too early into a corner and hit the Armco,” explained Latvala (top right).
At the top of the leaderboard Sordo (top left) eked out a few more tenths to increase the gap over Sébastien Ogier to 17.5sec. Ogier was a tenth of a second faster in Vilaplana but the situation was reversed in the next test when Sordo was 0.6sec quicker.
Meeke’s good work in Vilaplana was undone in the next stage when an over-ambitious cut punctured his Citroën DS 3’s front right tyre and he dropped 25sec.
Andreas Mikkelsen retained third in his Polo R after top four times in both stages, but Thierry Neuville and Hayden Paddon, fourth and fifth overall, complained of handling problems in their i20s.
Neuville said his car was ‘not driveable’, wheelspin in corners giving way to understeer, while Paddon reported a strong smell of burning plastic after locking his brakes early in Vilaplana.
Craig Breen lost 30sec and eighth place after breaking a front driveshaft in Vilaplana. “I had a huge spin when it snapped halfway round a fourth-gear corner,” said the Irishman, whose Citroën DS 3 was restricted to rear-wheel drive. He lost 90sec in the next test to add to a 2min 10sec penalty for starting late as he worked furiously, but in vain, to make repairs.