Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville dominates WRC Rally RACC Rally de Espana with teammate Dani Sordo in third behind title contender Toyota’s Elfyn Evans.
Thierry Neuville bounced back from a frustrating opening to demote early pacesetter Elfyn Evans and grab a slender lead in a pulsating opening to WRC RallyRACC – Rally de España on Friday. Neuville wrestled handling problems with his Hyundai i20 throughout the morning’s three smooth asphalt speed tests in the Costa Daurada hills. Set-up changes at the mid-leg service transformed his confidence and he ended with a 0.7sec advantage over Evans.
Evans is the only driver who can deny Sébastien Ogier an eighth world crown in nine seasons and he ended 18.7sec clear of the Frenchman after six flowing tests near Salou. Evans, driving a Toyota Yaris, dominated the morning. He won all three special stages, one shared with Neuville, to build a 7.9sec lead over the Belgian. A rejuvenated Neuville responded with a treble of his own when the stages were repeated this afternoon.
Evans was disappointed to concede the lead but relieved to survive a hefty slide into a kerbstone this afternoon. Ogier, who will lift the title if he outscores Evans by seven points, could do nothing about the battling duo ahead. He lacked confidence in his Yaris and had his hands full in fending off home hero Dani Sordo, who ended 5.4sec behind in an i20.
Kalle Rovanperä initially struggled to understand the characteristics of Pirelli’s new P Zero hard compound tyres which were being used for the first time. Driving a Yaris, his pace improved significantly in the afternoon and he was fifth, 13.2sec adrift of Sordo.
M-Sport Ford Fiesta duo Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith were a distant sixth and seventh, but comfortably clear of Oliver Solberg’s i20 in eighth. World Rally Car debutant Nil Solans was ninth, despite losing time with a misted windscreen when his drinks bag leaked, and WRC2 pacesetter Eric Camilli completed the leaderboard.
It was a disastrous morning for Takamoto Katsuta who slammed his Yaris into a roadside barrier in the opening stage after misunderstanding a pace note. He limped to the finish with heavy damage to the front left suspension and retired. Also on the sidelines was Ott Tänak, who retired after damaging his i20’s rear suspension when he went off the road in the afternoon’s opening test when lying sixth. A damaged chassis means he will not restart tomorrow.
Thierry Neuville dominated Saturday’s second leg of WRC RallyRACC – Rally de España to close on a second FIA World Rally Championship victory of the season. He was virtually untouchable on the flowing asphalt speed tests in the Costa Daurada hills to extend a slender 0.7sec overnight lead into a 16.4sec advantage over Elfyn Evans with one day remaining of this penultimate round.
After winning the final three special stages of Friday’s opening leg, the Hyundai i20 pilot added five more consecutive fastest times to his tally before a rejuvenated Sébastien Ogier broke the Belgian’s winning run. Neuville rounded off the day with another stage win.
Evans, who led on Friday before Neuville hit top gear, could do nothing but retained control of second with a 22.3sec advantage over Toyota Yaris team-mate and championship leader Ogier. That would be sufficient to take their fight for the drivers’ title to the final round in Italy.
As Evans floundered, Ogier prospered. The Frenchman struggled for pace this morning as Dani Sordo came within two-tenths of snatching third, but a raft of changes at mid-leg service transformed his performance.
He rebuilt his advantage over Sordo’s i20 only to see it reduced to 1.2sec after stalling his engine in the final stage. Kalle Rovanperä was 32.4sec behind Sordo in fifth. The young Finn was lucky to escape a huge ‘moment’ this morning when his Yaris speared into a field at high speed.
Rovanperä had room to breathe after Adrien Fourmaux lost more than 10 minutes when he clipped a barrier and punctured a tyre on his Ford Fiesta. After replacing the wheel, he battled on with a broken driveshaft, a damaged steering arm and suspension issues.
Team-mate Gus Greensmith conceded more than a minute with a morning puncture and an engine sensor problem this afternoon. The M-Sport Ford duo’s dramas allowed Oliver Solberg up to sixth, but a final stage clutch problem delayed the Swede and the pair swapped positions, separated by seven-tenths.
Nil Solans ended eighth on his first top-tier drive, WRC2 leader Eric Camilli, driving a Citroën C3 Rally2, was ninth with Nikolay Gryazin completing the leaderboard.
Thierry Neuville stormed to his second FIA World Rally Championship victory of the season with a commanding success at WRC RallyRACC – Rally de España on Sunday afternoon. The Belgian took control of the penultimate round with eight straight fastest times in his Hyundai i20 across the middle of the three-day asphalt rally to secure back-to-back Spain victories by 24.1 sec.
Second place for Elfyn Evans in a Toyota Yaris means the fight for the drivers’ title goes to a final round decider in Italy next month. He headed Dani Sordo’s i20 by 11.2sec and trails team-mate Sébastien Ogier by 17 points. A maximum 30 remain available.
After demoting Evans from the lead on Saturday morning, Neuville’s progress at the front was serene until a big scare ahead of the closing Wolf Power Stage. A starter motor problem meant co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe pushed their i20 into the regroup before the stage. The crew managed to restart the car and tackled the test without further problems, but the incident clearly rattled Neuville.
Evans felt uncomfortable on dirty roads when the smooth asphalt speed tests in the Costa Daurada hills were tackled for a second time, but the Welshman has slashed the deficit to Ogier from 44 points with victory in Finland earlier this month and second here. He tried a variety of set-up changes to no avail but had enough pace to stay ahead of a charging Sordo, who won all four of Sunday’s special stages to demote Ogier and claim the final podium place.
Ogier, pursuing his eighth title in nine seasons, struggled for pace in the first half of the rally. While set-up changes gave the Frenchman fresh heart, he could not hold off the Spaniard. Neuville and Sordo’s 1-2 in the bonus points-paying Power Stage means the fight between leader Toyota Gazoo Racing and Hyundai Motorsport for the manufacturers’ crown will also go to the last round.
Kalle Rovanperä finished fifth in another Yaris, almost 50sec adrift of Ogier, with Gus Greensmith overcoming several problems to complete the top six in a Ford Fiesta at the final rally for co-driver Chris Patterson. Oliver Solberg celebrated his first WRC asphalt drive in an i20 World Rally Car with seventh, equalling his career-best result. Top-tier debutant Nil Solans was eighth in another i20, with WRC2 winner Eric Camilli and Nikolay Gryazin completing the leaderboard.
Here’s the full WRC Rally Spain result: https://www.wrc.com/en/wrcplus/live-timing/
[Note: The above is as per the press release from WRC]