Saturday morning update
Ott Tänak’s world title aspirations took a serious hit this morning when he was forced to stop and change a wheel in the final stage of Saturday’s morning loop, dropping him nearly two minutes and handing the lead to local hero Dani Sordo. The Spaniard now heads a close battle with Jari-Matti Latvala just three-tenths of second adrift and Elfyn Evans third with a chasing pack behind.
Today’s Rally de España route took the crews onto asphalt to the north-east of Salou for two loops of three stages, which will be rounded off with a street stage on the seafront of the tourist resort this evening. Tänak started the day with a commanding 26.8 second advantage and was immediately on the pace on the first tarmac stage, fastest time further extending his lead. But, in the final 24 kilometre stage, he picked up a puncture, the time loss dropping him to ninth position, just over a minute off new leader Dani Sordo. The Spaniard continues to push hard but with both Tänak and Latvala gambling on full wet tyres in the rain this morning, both drivers were able to capitalise and Latvala is just three-tenths of a second behind in second position. Evans remains third and he, Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier are all chasing down the lead, the five drivers split by just 13.1 seconds at the lunchtime service.
Fourth-placed Sebastien Loeb has had a mistake free morning, despite the French nine-time FIA World Rally Champion not having competed on wet tarmac in six years. He is 2.5 seconds adrift of Evans with reigning champion Sebastien Ogier chasing him down in fifth, a further two seconds behind. Ogier confessed to the wrong tyre choice for the conditions, but having never previously tested Michelin’s full wets, he was not prepared to take the risk with so much at stake in the championship. He sits comfortably ahead of his main title rival Thierry Neuville, the protagonists split by 19.3 seconds. The Belgian has not been prepared to risk everything this morning but needs to up the pace this afternoon. Esapekka Lappi in seventh is enjoying being back on tarmac but continues to exercise caution, the Finn now Toyota’s second-placed car as the Japanese marque fights for top points in the Manufacturers’ Championship. Craig Breen was another looking forward to the tarmac stages but the Irish driver lost the rear end of the C3 in the opening stage and slammed into the Armco barriers, damaging the rear wing and making the car almost undriveable on the final stage. Tänak in ninth is sure to challenge the Citroen driver this afternoon, such has been his dominant pace during the event, and Andreas Mikkelsen rounds out the top 10. The Norwegian has had a spin and lost time with a cross configuration of tyres in the final stage.
The FIA WRC 2 Championship is now being led by Kalle Rovanperä, the young Finn just 3.1 seconds ahead of Eric Camilli. Provisional category champion Jan Kopecký is third, the trio split by a mere 3.5 seconds. Enrico Brazzoli is also now at the head of the FIA WRC 3 Championship and has more than four minutes in hand to Taisko Lario.