Nine-time FIA World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb leads Rally de España after an inspired last minute change of tyre choice saw him romp ahead of the regular championship contenders on Sunday morning. The Frenchman is 7.1 seconds ahead of overnight leader Jari-Matti Latvala with title contenders Sebastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville now third and four respectively and separated by just 3.8 seconds. With just 14.6 seconds separating the top four, the penultimate round of the championship is set to reach a thrilling climax over the final two stages.
Today’s route is by far the shortest taking in two loops of two stages over 61.70 kilometres and while it rained overnight, fast drying roads favoured Loeb. Thirty seconds before leaving for the first two stages, the Frenchman changed from soft to hard tyres and was the only driver to make this choice. He started the day third, eight seconds adrift of the lead, but two stage wins catapulted him into first in his third and final outing of the season with Citroen. Latvala suffered understeer in the opener and was lucky to escape a big moment in the second stage, but the Finn managed to maintain position ahead of Ogier. He wasn’t entirely comfortable with his Fiesta on some of the bumpy sections and will be making changes in service ahead of the re-run of the same two stages. Thierry Neuville has improved today and the Belgian has moved to within 3.8 seconds of his title rival, keeping the Championship fight as intense and tight as ever. He has also extended his advantage over Dani Sordo but the Spaniard won’t be challenging his team-mate in the final two stages and Neuville’s focus is firmly on overhauling Ogier in the closing kilometres.
Sordo has moved up to fifth after Elfyn Evans dropped time in the second stage, the Welshman unsure why he lost ground, but he is comfortably ahead of Ott Tänak. After his championship hopes were virtually destroyed yesterday, the Estonian is focused on bagging as many points as possible as his Toyota team fights with Hyundai for the Manufacturers’ Championship title. His team-mate Esapekka Lappi is close behind, the Finn dropping time with understeer and a lack of confidence in the day’s opener. Craig Breen has enjoyed a good morning and he, Andreas Mikkelsen and Teemu Suninen hold ninth, 10th and 11th respectively.
Kalle Rovanperä continues to head the FIA WRC 2 Championship standings ahead of team-mate Jan Kopecký, the Škoda drivers split by 13.9 seconds at the mid-leg service. Former FIA World Rally Champion Petter Solberg is third in Volkswagen’s new Polo GTi R5 car. Enrico Brazzoli also leads WRC 3 with a comfortable advantage over Taisko Lario.