Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier has taken the lead on Rally de Espana following Friday's opening loop of stages.
Ogier was expected to lose time this morning running first on the road, however, despite having to sweep the roads, his position turned out to be beneficial, as his rivals behind were slowed by hanging dust and poor visibility.
That meant the Frenchman was able to move back to the fore, despite slipping to joint fourth in SS2, when he was only eighth quickest.
Indeed the second best time in SS3 – only 0.1 seconds off the pace – and a quickest time in SS4 left him 8.4 seconds up on Thierry Neuville as competitors headed back to Salou for the 30 minute mid-day service.
“I pushed from the start, it was hard but I am happy,” Ogier said after Terra Alta 1.
“I hope I will do better on the second loop”.
Meanwhile, Neuville, who took the lead in SS3, was frustrated by the amount of dust – especially as the drivers had warned it could be an issue.
“I hope one day to have Ogier's luck...” the Hyundai pilot told the official WRC site. “Behind him the dust we are facing makes it frustrating.
“I will keep pushing but I could not do any more than this. I had to slow down a couple of times - I did not know if I was on the stage or not.”
Citroen's Mads Ostberg rounds out the top-three, 11.4 seconds back, and only 0.3 seconds up M-Sport man Mikko Hirvonen in P4.
“The visibility is changing so much. In some places you can't see anything at all and you have to slow down, and in others it's not really a problem,” Hirvonen explained. “It all depends on the surface, but when it's bad, it's pretty bad!
“It can hang on one corner, then there's nothing. You start to trust that there's no dust, and then it's back again so it's really tricky out there.
“Sometimes you just need to trust your pacenotes and go for it, even if you can't see. We've tried to do that in places and I'm really happy with our position at the moment. Let's hope we can do more of the same this afternoon.”
Overnight leader Andreas Mikkelsen is then fifth, just 2.6 seconds adrift, with Robert Kubica sixth and Jari-Matti Latvala seventh, all three separated by less than 2 seconds.
“The conditions have been very difficult and it was not an easy first stage [SS2] having to get back into the rhythm of gravel rallying,” Kubica said. “The last gravel event we did was Rally Australia and since then we had France test, France rally and Spain test on Tarmac, so I was a little surprised at times. We had one moment in which I lost the line in a corner and on this loose surface it was very slippery.
“Then the second stage [SS3] in particular was very difficult because of the dust. There were some very fast sections – at 140, 150 kilometres per hour – and you couldn't see anything; you just heard 'flat-right', 'flat-left' but you can't see anything so it was very difficult. But for us I think it was a good loop – no big dramas and some good driving.”
“I hit a stone [in SS2], there was a lot of dust at the beginning of the stage, I didn't cut, but it was there at the side of the road and I didn't see it,” Latvala added. “I was a bit afraid we would have a puncture and I found it hard to get into the rhythm in there.”
“The car has not been good for me [on this loop],” he continued, “the set-up is not working like I thought. I don't know why, I have no idea what the issue is. Not good.”
Behind, Dani Sordo is eighth, with Elfyn Evans, Martin Prokop, Ken Block and WRC2 leader Nasser Al-Attiyah in positions 9 through to 12.
“We were a little bit untidy in the first stage [SS2], but the second one [SS3] was going well until we got caught in some very bad dust,” said Evans. “There's not a lot you can do about that – it's just unlucky. Then we couldn't get the car stopped into a very fast corner. We spun and went backwards into the trees so we were lucky to get away with that without any damage.
“It's been a bit up and down with the rhythm, but on the whole it's not too bad. We just need to concentrate on having a cleaner run this afternoon and see how we go.”
In terms of retirements, Kris Meeke has retired from the leg after suffering a double puncture in SS3. He had been quickest in SS2 and was running second overall, 1.1 seconds off the lead.
Hayden Paddon also hit trouble, but in SS4 when he went off and hit a bank, picking up two punctures. He lost almost 6 minutes, which drops him right out of contention, although he was able to continue. He had been running third.
Rally de Espana now continues this afternoon with a repeat-run through this morning's three tests.
SS5, the 7 km Gandesa 2 test, is due to start at 13.54 hours local time [12.54 hours UK time].
RallyRACC-Rally de Espana: Overall standings after Stage 4 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 47m 06.3s M
2. Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +00m 08.4s M
3. Mads Ostberg Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +00m 19.8s M
4. Mikko Hirvonen M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 20.1s M
5. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +00m 22.7s M
6. Robert Kubica RK M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 23.5s M
7. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +00m 24.2s M
8. Dani Sordo Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +00m 35.9s M
9. Elfyn Evans M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 38.6s M
10. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 20.6s M
11. Ken Block M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02m 18.0s
12. Nasser Al-Attiyah Ford Fiesta RRC +02m 32.2s WRC2
13. Sebastien Chardonnet Citroen DS3 R5 +02m 57.2s WRC2
14. Xavi Pons Ford Fiesta R5 +02m 58.1s
15. Valeriy Gorban MINI Cooper Super 2000 +03m 03.3s WRC2
16. Yuriy Protasov M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03m 12.1s
17. Khalid Al Qassimi Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +03m 14.4s
WRC2 standings after Stage 4 (Top 3):
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah Ford Fiesta RRC 49m 38.5s WRC2
2. Sebastien Chardonnet Citroen DS3 R5 +00m 25.0s WRC2
3. Valeriy Gorban MINI Cooper Super 2000 +00m 31.1s WRC2
SS3/SS4. Kris Meeke Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC Double puncture M
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial