Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier heads the leaderboard at the end of day two of Rally de Espana and he now looks poised to take the win and clinch the WRC Drivers' title for the second year in succession.
Ogier, who only needs to score one more point that Latvala this weekend to take the title, controlled his pace throughout the second full day of competition, his only moment coming in SS11 this afternoon when he had to complete more than a third of the test with a damaged front tyre.
Ironically, however, this was the only test he won, and he will now take a 27.3 second advantage into the final leg.
“The plan was to control, but I must congratulate Jari-Matti on his drive today,” Ogier told the official WRC site. “He did well. In some sections I was not controlling much!
“Pressure is part of my job however, although Jari-Matti did keep us driving fast because he was flying. Now it is starting to look good. My plan was to have a 20-second advantage tonight. I am happy to have more than that.”
Speaking back in the final service, he added: “Another fantastic day for Julien [Ingrassia – my co-driver] and me. I'm happy to be on track, the final kilometres on the 50-kilometre stage this afternoon were particularly hard on the tyres. On top of that Jari-Matti pushed strongly, as I expected. But my target was to control the advantage, which worked perfectly. Now all my focus is on the final day so that we can repeat last year's dream. We'll give it our all.”
Latvala won four of the five 'proper' stages on Saturday in a bid to bounce back, but conceded that the time lost on Friday on the gravel was too much to recover. He had started the second leg 36.6 seconds adrift.
“I have to be pleased, overall it has been a good day,” said the Finn, “but I am a bit disappointed that yesterday wasn't better. I wanted to fight for the win here and now it's a little bit too far away. I was too aggressive yesterday and was not prepared properly for the gravel. I was thinking too much about the tarmac [stages of today].”
Meanwhile, Mikko Hirvonen completes the provisional podium for M-Sport, 51.3 seconds back, and 29.7 seconds up on Citroen's Mads Ostberg.
“We're in a good position and on Tarmac as well so that is really good. I'm getting a good feeling with these tyres and the car – they're just working really well for us. I've been really happy all day and we've not had any problems at all,” Hirvonen commented.
“We've managed to get a good gap between ourselves and Mads so I won't have to go absolutely flat-out all the time tomorrow. I can control the situation and monitor his splits, but we still need to have a good rhythm. I'm pretty confident that we will be able to do it.”
“Today's leg on tarmac boosted my confidence,” Ostberg added. “I'm pleased with my performances. I worked a lot on using the tyres well, especially on the long stage and given the particularly hot conditions for this time of year. I feel that everything worked pretty well. We have to make sure of the result tomorrow.”
Behind, local star Dani Sordo is fifth in his Hyundai i20 WRC, one spot ahead of team-mate Thierry Neuville.
“We had a good morning with some positive times. The car is good on tarmac and I am happy with our performance,” said Sordo. “We have a good feeling with the Hyundai i20 WRC and the tyres on these tarmac roads and this is a definite improvement from France.
“Some of the roads have been very dirty so we have been careful there to avoid any mistakes but overall we are pleased with our progress today and I am looking forward to pushing hard tomorrow.”
“This morning was OK. The car felt good and has a lot of potential. I think I could have been quicker but I took it a bit steady as the roads have been quite tricky and dirty, particularly the last section of the long stage,” Neuville added.
“In the afternoon we tried to push a little more, although we continued to lose time in the dirty sections. These roads are very hard on the tyres and we are learning all the time about how to get the best out of the Hyundai i20 WRC in these conditions. Overall I think we are making good progress. We are closer to our competitors than at the last tarmac rally and I'm looking forward to a strong final day.”
Further back, Andreas Mikkelsen dropped from P4 and challenging for third to seventh after picking up a puncture in SS11.
“Today wasn't my day,” Mikkelsen noted. “On the special stages this morning I battled with Mikko Hirvonen for third place from afar, but had to battle with a lot of understeering. On the 50-kilometre stage I spun just before the end because I attacked too much – my mistake. On top of that I suffered tyre damage on the same special stage in the afternoon. First came the vibrations, then the puncture.
“We had to change the wheel on the special stage and lost more than two minutes. It was bad luck, however we'll try to enjoy the driving as much as possible for the rest of the rally and get used to the stages for next year.”
SS11 also took its toll on Robert Kubica, with the Pole retiring after he took a wheel off. He had been running ninth.
Kubica's demise ensured Martin Prokop remained eighth, even though the Czech driver lost over 3 minutes in SS12 with possible driveshaft issues.
Hayden Paddon and Yuriy Protasov complete the top ten, with WRC2 class leader Nasser Al-Attiyah eleventh and Ken Block twelfth.
“I needed to adapt my driving today as I got used to the feel of the new tyres on tarmac,” Paddon reflected. “The car felt that it was moving around more than I'm usual and I was lacking the confidence to push, particularly as the front end was understeering when I got on the power early.
“However, we are learning and improving all the time and this afternoon was much better. We still need to make some minor adjustments but I'm looking forward to a positive day tomorrow.”
Elfyn Evans and Kris Meeke both rejoined on Saturday under Rally 2, ending the day 16th and 21st respectively.
“On the whole I think it's been a fairly difficult day for us,” Evans noted. “As we're not in a specific fight we've been playing around with the set-up and trying to learn for the future. We've been trying to find something that suits my driving style a bit better but we didn't go in the right direction this afternoon which made the going a bit tough. We'll do some more changes over night to see if we can improve tomorrow.”
“It's always difficult to get back into the swing of things after rejoining under Rally 2 rules,” Meeke added. “But it's also an opportunity to learn about the stages. The result isn't really all that important now. So I'm only concentrating on the performances. I'm trying to make the most of every kilometre and every corner!”
Rally de Espana now concludes on Sunday with four stages on the bill and a competitive distance of 72.06 km.
SS14, the 20.48 kilometre La Mussara 1 test, is due to start at 07.30 hours local time.
RallyRACC-Rally de Espana: Overall standings after Stage 13 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 3hrs 04m 14.5s M
2. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +00m 27.3s M
3. Mikko Hirvonen M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 18.6s M
4. Mads Ostberg Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +01m 48.3s M
5. Dani Sordo Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +02m 10.4s M
6. Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +03m 36.1s M
7. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +03m 48.2s M
8. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +07m 31.0s M
9. Hayden Paddon Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +08m 28.5s M
10. Yuriy Protasov M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +09m 50.6s
11. Nasser Al-Attiyah Ford Fiesta RRC +09m 59.1s WRC2
12. Ken Block M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +10m 12.1s
13. Julien Maurin Ford Fiesta R5 +11m 05.0s WRC2
14. Xavi Pons Ford Fiesta R5 +12m 18.2s
15. Khalid Al Qassimi Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +12m 23.0s
16. Elfyn Evans M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +12m 51.2s M
17. Robert Barrable Ford Fiesta R5 +14m 32.0s WRC2
21. Kris Meeke Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +27m 38.9s M*
WRC2 standings after Stage 13 (Top 3):
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah Ford Fiesta RRC 3hrs 14m 13.6s WRC2
2. Julien Maurin Ford Fiesta R5 +01m 05.9s WRC2
3. Robert Barrable Ford Fiesta R5 +04m 32.9s WRC2
SS3/SS4. Kris Meeke Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC Double puncture M*
SS6. Elfyn Evans M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Radiator damage M*
SS11. Robert Kubica RK M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Lost a wheel M
M denotes Manufacturer entry
*denotes re-started on Saturday under Rally 2
all times unofficial