SS1/2: Tänak sets pace

Ott Tänak led RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España after the opening two gravel speed tests on Friday morning.

Stage info: SS1/2

SS1: Caseres 1, 12.50km
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 2016.

SS2: Bot 1, 6.50km
Friday’s shortest test starts in the village of Bot and climbs all the way until a final asphalt section that heads downhill into the finish outside Gandesa. The initial gravel is firm and wide, but there are a couple of off-camber corners that might trap drivers. The first part is slow and twisty, but the second part is quicker with a series of fast bends near the finish. Identical to the stage used in 2016.

The Estonian was fastest in the Caseres special stage before claiming second quickest in the following Bot test to hold a 2.2sec advantage over Mads Østberg’s Ford Fiesta.

Glorious sunshine and dry conditions meant the dirt tracks in the hills west of Salou were covered in loose gravel. Conditions improved as the passage of every car cleared stones from the driving line, but the ‘cleaning’ effect was not as pronounced as expected.

“You can see some cleaning but it’s still extremely slippery, which is a bit surprising. We have to manage the conditions as best as we can,” said Tänak, who is third in the start order.

Østberg was second in Caseres and fourth in Bot, the Norwegian benefiting from starting further down the running order. However, all wasn’t well inside his Fiesta.

“I’m angry because we’ve just started the rally and the car is full of dust. I try to find where it’s coming from but it must be a big hole because there’s so much dust inside the car. I could have been faster – it’s typical that something like this happens,” he said.

Just 0.1sec further back in third was Kris Meeke, who won Bot in his Citroën C3. The Northern Ireland driver was 0.4sec ahead of Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20, with new team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen and Dani Sordo completing the top six.

Less than six seconds covered the leading sextet and championship leader Sébastien Ogier was tucked in just behind in his Fiesta.

There were many different tyre options, although selections were made very much with the next mixed surface Terra Alta test in mind, at almost 39km the longest and toughest challenge of the entire weekend.

Sordo and Latvala struggled on hard compound rubber, but Latvala was also critical of his driving. “I did some mistakes and I’m not happy with my driving. My mistake, I was shifting too early,” said the Toyota Yaris driver.

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