Dani Sordo led RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España after a dramatic Saturday morning in which leader Ott Tänak’s hopes vanished when he stopped to change a wheel.
Stage info: SS9/10
SS9: Querol 1, 21.26km
After a year out of the itinerary, Querol is back. It starts in the village of Pontils and the road is narrow but well-surfaced until the Esblada junction near the midpoint. From that point, it becomes narrower as the stage descends through Querol to the finish near Pont d’Armentera. Driven in the opposite direction to last season.
SS10: El Montmell 1, 24.40km
El Montmell has a good surface but it’s narrow throughout, and there are some very high-speed cuts to focus drivers’ minds. The opening is extremely quick, with a chicane before Can Ferrer de la Cogullada to reduce speeds. After the village, the route becomes twistier before finishing with a dizzying bend-filled descent known as Les Ventoses.
Sordo headed Jari-Matti Latvala by 0.3sec after a rain-soaked morning on asphalt roads. But a devastated Tänak could only reflect on the incident which cost 1min 45sec, relegated him to ninth and may have dealt a fatal blow to his WRC title bid.
The Estonian stopped just before the midpoint of El Montmell, the last speed test of a shortened morning, to replace his Toyota Yaris’ front left wheel. “Just a puncture. I don’t know exactly. There was a bump, nothing special, but maybe…..” he said.
Overnight rain made conditions tricky and Toyota duo Tänak and Latvala’s gamble to fit Michelin’s rain tyre paid dividends.
After the cancellation of the opening Savallà test for safety reasons due to spectators in unsafe roadside positions, Tänak was fastest from Latvala in Querol to stretch his lead over Sordo to almost 33sec.
Latvala won El Montmell to sit on Sordo’s coat tails after restarting in fifth following his own puncture yesterday.
“I’m very happy with how things have gone this morning. The wet tyre was working pretty well. Towards the end I thought they were overheating because the grip was not there, but I think it was coming from the surface,” said the fired-up Finn.
After finishing third in Querol, Sordo was fifth in El Montmell. The Hyundai i20 driver slowed towards the finish after fearing he had a puncture, a concern that proved unfounded.
Elfyn Evans was third in a Ford Fiesta, heading a cluster of three drivers covered by only 4.5sec. The Welshman trailed Sordo by 8.3sec but had 2.5sec in hand over Sébastien Loeb, with Sébastien Ogier a further 2.0sec adrift.
Loeb struggled with driving in wet asphalt for the first time in six years while Ogier regretted his choice of soft tyres.
“The Toyotas were much faster in the wet. I never had the chance in my career to try this tyre so it’s a bit of a lottery to choose them. But it was the choice and we were wrong,” he said.
Championship leader Thierry Neuville climbed from ninth to sixth in his i20 but the Belgian was unwilling to take big risks in his quest for points.
Esapekka Lappi and Craig Breen were next up, Breen losing time after a spin damaged the rear wing and removed his Citroën C3’s bumper. Behind Tänak, on overly-cautious Andreas Mikkelsen completed the leaderboard.