M-Sport's Elfyn Evans has taken the lead on Tour de Corse – Rallye de France after going quickest in Friday's final test.
Evans finished the wet opening stage this morning in sixth, 16 seconds off Sebastien Ogier and Robert Kubica, who tied for the fastest time.
With SS2 then cancelled
due to torrential rain, which caused flooding and landslides, competitors only had one more test to do, the 36.43 km Francardo-Sermano 1 test. Conditions, however, remained extremely tricky, but despite not thinking he had done enough, a storming time, 10.3s up on Kevin Abbring, vaulted Evans to the top.
The Welshman will now take a 18.7s cushion into the overnight halt, with better weather forecast for the weekend.
“It didn't feel great to be honest,” Evans told the official WRC site after the stage. “I didn't feel like I was carrying enough speed. It's such a busy stage. My gravel note crew though did a great job.”
Speaking back in service, Evans added: “It's a great feeling to be leading my first rally – albeit a bit surprising! When we got to the [SS3] stage end I said to Dan [Barritt, co-driver] that we'd not had a good run but we were very clean and tidy and didn't waste any time, so that obviously worked well for us.
“The information we had from the gravel crew was really consistent with what we actually saw on the stage itself so a big thanks to them because I'm sure that went some way to setting the time we did.
“The guys behind will be pushing hard tomorrow, but with the Welsh rugby team doing such a fantastic job last night I guess the pressure is on me to continue that trend!”
Meanwhile, Abbring was another on the move and his second best time in his Hyundai i20 WRC moved him up from P7 to P2, 4.2 seconds ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala's Volkswagen Polo R WRC.
“We took it steady on today's stages. We didn't really know what to expect on the opening stage and as the 15th car on the road the conditions were quite dirty,” said Abbring. “There were a few parts where the pace notes worked really well and my performance was good.
“We made some changes to the car at service and things went well in the afternoon. I knew I was on good pace in the opening 10km but it wasn't so clear in the latter part, so I had to be careful. This is our second tarmac rally and I'm just focused on trusting the pace notes fully. Considering the circumstances today, I am very happy with how it is working so far. We'll continue to work in this way tomorrow and see what more improvements we can make.”
“I was very happy with the first stage, as it was a clean run and I did not lose a lot of time to my team-mate Sebastien Ogier. However, the second special stage was a different story. I took it very cautiously. I made a conscious decision to drive it that way, as I was determined to get through safely without any problems,” Latvala added.
“The heavy rain made it extremely slippery and there was a lot of aquaplaning. The whole day reminded me of the Rallye Monte Carlo. You were constantly aware of the risk of getting a puncture. All in all, given the tricky conditions, it was a good day for us. If we make it back to the hotel dry, I will be happy.”
Behind, Mads Ostberg is fourth for Citroen, 15.9s further back, and 1.5s up on Kubica, the joint leader post-SS1.
“I think this has been one of the most difficult days in my career! We managed to be consistent and keep out of trouble. Our position is pretty good so far, although the final stage was really tricky,” Ostberg said. “I hope that the sunshine will dry out the roads so that the second leg can be more enjoyable. Today, we were really looking to get the balance right between safety and performance.”
“SS3 was a very bad stage [for me],” Kubica added. “Some more confidence would be good - lots of standing water.”
Further back, Stephane Sarrazin completes the top six in his privately entered Fiesta RS WRC, followed by VW Motorsport II pilot Andreas Mikkelsen, Citroen's Kris Meeke and fellow Ford runner, Bryan Bouffier.
“I have to be pleased to have made it to the end of the first day. SS3 is certainly the most difficult stage that I have ever tackled,” Meeke noted. “There was running water and debris everywhere on the road. Towards the end, however, some sections were beginning to dry out. Our gravel crews did a fantastic job, their help was invaluable today. Anything can happen on this rally, because there's still a long way to go.”
Ogier has now dropped to tenth, losing time 10 kilometres or so from the end of SS3 when he had to stop and change a puncture.
“An eventful start for us in these crazy conditions here on Corsica. After the torrential rain in the night, the morning's first stage actually went very well. It was obviously still very wet and slippery, but not as dramatic as feared,” Ogier said.
“Unfortunately luck was not on our side on this afternoon's 36-kilometre stage - conditions were a bit like playing roulette: anything can happen. Two thirds of the way into the stage we suffered a slow puncture. To be honest, I don't know exactly where and when, as we did not hit anything.
“I tried to continue for a further five kilometres, but we ultimately had no choice but to change the tyre. As a result, we obviously lost more than a minute and a half. However, although victory would appear to be out of reach for now, all is not lost. A lot can still happen at this Tour de Corse.”
Of the rest, Hayden Paddon lies eleventh, despite a “heart in mouth” moment in SS3, with Ott Tanak, Stephane Lefebvre and Dani Sordo in positions 12 through to 14, the latter losing over 2 minutes in the final test after hitting a stone and breaking a wheel.
“It was a day of mixed results for me, but overall there are some positives,” Sordo refected. “The first stage was not too bad at all. The conditions were a bit damp and a lot of corners were muddy and slippery in places. We had some understeer towards the end of the stage but overall it was a good start.
“In the afternoon, all of our time loss in SS3 was caused in the first split when we went tight into a corner and caught a rock on the inside, which broke the rim. We lost two minutes as a result, a very frustrating situation because I was on good pace after that. We'll regroup and see what conditions are like tomorrow. For sure, we'll try to reclaim some positions.”
In WRC2, Craig Breen now takes over at the front, 3.4s up on Julien Maurin. Esapekka Lappi holds third. Early class leader, Pontus Tidemand went out in SS3 after damaging the suspension on his Fabia R5.
Hyundai WRC pilot Thierry Neuville was the only other major casualty of the day, retiring near the start of SS1 after hitting a bridge.
Tour de Corse – Rallye de France now resumes on Saturday. Full itinerary for round eleven in WRC 2015 available - HERE
*** Ogier was forced to retire from day one of the event on the road section to parc ferme due to a gear shift problem. He now drops down to 55th position.
2015 Tour de Corse - Rallye de France: Overall standings after Stage 3 (Top 10):
1. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC 46m 48.5s
2. Kevin Abbring
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +0m 18.7s
3. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +0m 22.9s
4. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +0m 38.8s
5. Robert Kubica
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +0m 40.3s
6. Stephane Sarrazin
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +0m 43.1s
7. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +0m 44.5s
8. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +0m 47.0s
9. Bryan Bouffier
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 04.8s
10. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +1m 13.2s
11. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +1m 14.9s
12. Ott Tanak
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 15.9s
13. Stephane Lefebvre
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +1m 39.9s
14. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +1m 56.6s
15. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2m 15.2s
16. Craig Breen
Peugeot 208 T16 +2m 24.7s
17. Julien Maurin
Ford Fiesta RRC +2m 28.1s
18. Esapekka Lappi
Skoda Fabia R5 +2m 34.9s
WRC2 standings after Stage 3 (Top 3):
1. Craig Breen
Peugeot 208 T16 49m 13.2s
2. Julien Maurin
Ford Fiesta RRC +0m 03.4s
3. Esapekka Lappi
Skoda Fabia R5 +0m 10.2s
SS1. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Hit a bridge
SS3. Pontus Tidemand
Skoda Fabia R5 Suspension
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial