During an afternoon where tire choice and weather conditions played their part, Jari-Matti Latvala made his way to the top of the Rally Spain leaderboard, the Finn overhauling Dani Sordo for what could be his first win in the FIA World Rally Championship since Sweden last year. Meanwhile, title contender Sebastien Ogier has moved into second, 3.3 seconds ahead of third-placed Sebastien Loeb as no fewer than six drivers battle for honors in Spain.
Latvala went into the afternoon loop of stages trailing Sordo by a mere three-tenths of a second, but the Finn instantly laid down his intention by jumping into the lead by nearly four seconds. He marginally extended his advantage over the following two stages before heading to the short Salou street stage and ultimately coming back for the overnight halt with a 4.7-second lead going into Sunday’s closing four stages.
Tires played their part, particularly in the final long stage when rain started to fall for some of the later contenders, which is what ultimately shuffled the pack. Ogier, on full wets, was getting used to the tires for the first time in the opener and even though he ran in the dry all afternoon, the Frenchman moved from fifth to second in the middle long stage as others dropped time.
Strong performance on wet asphalt moved Sebastien Ogier and M-Sport Ford back into contention. Image McKlen/LAT
Loeb had a tricky first stage with a couple of mistakes but he too benefited as others flailed and the nine-time FIA World Rally champion climbed from fourth to third over the course of the afternoon, a stage win aiding his challenge.
Elfyn Evans managed to extend his advantage over Loeb in the first of the four stages but then slipped back to fourth overnight. He is however only 9.8 seconds off the lead and has championship contender Thierry Neuville closing in. The Belgian is also within striking distance of the lead after two fastest times this afternoon and he will be focused on closing the gap to Ogier tomorrow to keep the championship fight as tight as possible.
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Having led going into the afternoon, Sordo dropped to sixth in the final long stage, a combination of weather conditions and muddy roads hampering his assault. He too is still only 16.5 seconds off the lead.
Esapekka Lappi was lucky to escape a high-speed spin that took him broadside down the last stage; the young Finn is seventh after a stall in the street stage, with Ott Tanak eighth. Despite trying to move back up the leaderboard, the Estonian’s position meant the roads were getting steadily dirtier with the passage of cars and this coupled with a spin to hinder his efforts to get his title assault back on track. He did however win the Salou stage. Craig Breen had a 360-degree spin in the second stage, a stall in the final stage and is ninth with Andreas Mikkelsen and Teemu Suninen 10th and 11th respectively.
Kalle Rovanpera continues to head the FIA WRC 2 Championship, the 18-year-old Finn fighting with Jan Kopecky and Nil Solans who shared this afternoon’s stage wins. Enrico Brazzoli is looking good for the WRC 3 category victory, the Italian well ahead of Taisko Lario and Louise Cook.
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