Fri 21 Oct 2022

Neuville powers to slender Spain advantage

Two-time RallyRACC - Rally de Espanã winner Thierry Neuville leads the asphalt event by the tiniest of margins at the end of an action-packed opening loop on Friday morning.

In third overall, and just 1.6sec back from team-mate Ogier, was WRC champion Kalle Rovanperä. The Finn profited from a less polluted surface running first on the road and led the way after winning stages one and two. 

His time at the top was short-lived, however, as the 21-year-old complained of understeer towards the end of the 22.64km Les Garrigues Altes stage. 

Ott Tänak was lucky to still be in contention after making frantic repairs on the road section back to service due to a suspected alternator issue. The Estonian also struggled with a hybrid unit fault on SS2. 

Despite the drama, Tänak is just 1.8sec adrift of the final podium spot heading into this afternoon’s loop when the stages will be repeated once more. 

Only six seconds blanketed the leading quartet after four demanding speed tests north of rally base Salou, with Hyundai i20 N star Neuville topping the timesheets by just half a second from Toyota GR Yaris rival Sébastien Ogier. 

The Belgian star posted a trio of second-fastest stage times before staking his claim for a hat-trick of successive Spanish victories by ousting Ogier from the top spot in the final Riba-roja test. 

Neuville remained generally content with his car’s set-up but admitted choosing the correct tyre strategy posed the biggest challenge in drying conditions. He ran soft compound Pirelli rubber for most of the morning before bolting on a pair of hard compound slicks for the last stage. 

“We had a clean run through,” he said. “The tyre strategy hasn't been so easy this morning and it was a bit on the edge in here, but the balance wasn't so bad on the car. I was actually enjoying it."

Elfyn Evans put his 10.9sec deficit to leader Neuville down to nothing more than hesitation. The Yaris man ended the morning in fifth overall with a comfortable 13.9sec buffer over sixth-placed Dani Sordo, who drives an i20. 

Takamoto Katsuta and Craig Breen also struggled to find their confidence, with leading M-Sport Ford Puma driver Breen explaining that his pace notes were ‘too slow’. 

The pair held seventh and eighth respectively ahead of Puma duo Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith, who completed the top 10.  

Pierre-Louis Loubet languishes more than 1min 20sec off the pace after a fraught morning in his Puma. The French youngster suffered a front left puncture on SS3 and pulled over shortly after the final stage to extinguish a small engine bay fire before continuing. 

  • Full coverage from RallyRACC - Rally de España will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.
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