Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville was on a charge this Saturday afternoon and snatched the top spot of the leaderboard on the Tour de Corse, passing both Elfyn Evans and Ott Tänak, the latter dropping time with a puncture. A miraculous recovery drive from Sébastien Ogier, who also benefited from the misfortune of some of his WRC rivals, promoted the reigning FIA World Rally champion to third place.
This afternoon was the second pass of the 3-stage loop, including Cap Corse, Désert des Agriates and the monster 47.18 kilometre Castagniccia test, by far the longest of the rally. All crews took a full set of five hard tyres, as they had in the morning.
Only 2.3s separated the leading duo of Tänak and Evans as they started SS10, Evans having lost his lead on the prior run of Castagniccia. He responded immediately by taking 0.7s out of Tänak on Cap Corse and then inherited the lead when Tänak picked up a puncture on Désert des Agriates. That forced the Estonian to stop and change his Toyota Yaris’s front-right wheel, dropping down to seventh.
After falling back from the lead battle on the morning loop, Neuville came back stronger after the midday break to snatch stage wins on both Désert des Agriates and Castagniccia - and the lead - taking an incredible 16 seconds out of Evans on the last stage. With only two stages remaining on Sunday’s final leg, Neuville has a 4.5s advantage over the M-Sport driver.
Sébastien Ogier had struggled earlier on in the rally with the set-up of his Citroën C3 - at one point running as low as eighth place - but was back after a strong run on Castagniccia this morning. In the fight with Dani Sordo for fourth place, he became third after Tänak’s puncture, swooping past the Spaniard on the afternoon pass of Castagniccia.
Ogier took 19.5s out of the Hyundai driver on the mammoth stage, despite suffering an anti-lag issue, leaving his C3 down on power for several kilometres.Sordo is still in a position to fight for the third podium place on Sunday’s final leg as he is only 5.1s behind Ogier in fourth place. And he has little to worry about from behind, with M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen being 42.2s behind in fifth.
After his puncture and wheel change, Tänak immediately recovered to sixth place, demoting Citroën’s second driver Esapekka Lappi back to seventh on Castagniccia. But the current championship leader knows his hopes for victory or even a podium are blown away, with 51.19km of competitive distance left tomorrow.
Lappi is 4.8s adrift of Tänak but well ahead of four-time Tour de Corse winner Sébastien Loeb in eighth, with an advantage of 1m22.1s after the Frenchman suffered long delays on SS1 yesterday with right-rear damage to his Hyundai i20. Kris Meeke, recovering from a similar problem that occured yesterday, is 34.5s behind in ninth, with his Toyota team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala in 10th.
Like Tänak, Latvala also suffered a front-right puncture on Désert des Agriates, setting him back a further couple of minutes, though he had been delayed for the same reason yesterday.
For the FIA WRC 2 Pro class, this second championship round has been a particularly ruthless experience as none of the category contenders has reached the finish line at the end of the day. Škoda Motorsport’s Kalle Rovanperä retired on the morning pass of Castagniccia, and Łukasz Pieniążek crashed out on the afternoon running of the same stage. The M-Sport driver ran wide at a right hander, striking a wall, falling off the edge of the road and getting stuck in a ditch.
FIA WRC 2 is headed by Italy’s Fabio Andolfi, who had inherited the lead from Eric Camilli this morning after a problem for the Frenchman on Castagniccia. Camilli had reduced a gap of over 30s to only 5.4s after SS11 but he was abruptly stopped in his tracks when his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 suddenly caught fire and burned to its shell. Both Camilli and co-driver François-Xavier Buresi were unharmed but the car was destroyed, ending their rally. Russia’s Nikolay Gryazin is second in the FIA WRC 2 class and 12th overall, ahead of Norway’s Ole Christian Veiby in third place.
Leading positions after leg 2
1. T Neuville / N Gilsoul BEL Hyundai i20 2hr 56min 50.0sec
2. E Evans / S Martin GBR Ford Fiesta +4.5sec
3. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Citroën C3 +44.8sec
4. D Sordo / C del Barrio ESP Hyundai i20 +49.9sec
5. T Suninen / M Salminen FIN Ford Fiesta +1min 32.1sec
6. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Toyota Yaris +1min 54.5sec