Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier re-took the lead of RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada in Friday's final test, and will now go into day two with a 4 second cushion over team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala.
Like in the morning, Ogier lost time in the first three tests of the loop, dropping back from first to third behind Latvala and M-Sport's Ott Tanak.
However, he was then quickest in the long 35.68 km Terra Alta test - the only stage of the day that included both gravel and asphalt, completing it 7.2s up on Latvala and 13.6s up on Tanak to vault back to P1.
“A fantastic day: I am really pleased with our performance on the opening day,” Ogier said. “The long day, with eight consecutive gravel stages without an interim service, was a real challenge that we and the Polo mastered perfectly.
“In the afternoon, in particular, Julien [Ingrassia – my co-driver] and I still had really good tyres on the final 35-kilometre stage, which is probably what made the difference.
“With the switch to asphalt, a totally new rally starts tomorrow. The car has a much firmer set-up and reacts more directly when braking and steering - another challenge that I am really looking forward to. Since the roads here are very wide, it is a little bit like being on a circuit. Choosing the right line will be crucial.”
“Seb did very well [in that last test],” Latvala added. “There were so many cuts in there, so much stuff on the road. I couldn't drive like I did earlier. A few small mistakes early on, but I couldn't have done much better. We are on the pace, much better that last year, so anything is still possible.”
“I didn't get off to quite the start I had planned. But after the first stage this morning I knew that I had to change something. As a result, it wasn't only the set-up of the car that I worked on, but also on my mental attitude,” Latvala continued.
“This was noticeable immediately with better times. In particular, I was much faster on the long 'Terra Alta' stage than last year. The Polo R WRC ran smoothly and I didn't have any problems with tyre wear either.”
Meanwhile, Tanak looked poised to be right up there at the mid-point in SS9, before losing ground on the asphalt section: Meanwhile, Tanak looked poised to be right up there at the mid-point in SS9, before losing ground on the asphalt section: “I lost the rear tyres on the tarmac,” he confirmed. “There was really no chance to go faster after that.
“But we've had a good day today. I knew that it was going to be a case of getting into the right mind set from the beginning and that's what we did. We were just thinking about giving it a big push and doing our best. We did that and that's the only way to get the good times.
“Of course I think everyone knows that I prefer gravel to tarmac, but I also really like thetTarmac roads here in Spain. They're really smooth and flowing and fast so I am looking forward to the next two days. It will be a strange feeling on the first stage after a full day of gravel, but we are here and we want to push. I really hope that we can surprise a few people tomorrow as well.”
VW Motorsport II pilot Andreas Mikkelsen completes the top-six, with Hayden Paddon only 0.7s back in seventh in his Hyundai i20 WRC.
“I still haven't really found the rhythm I was hoping for today. I was simply too cautious this morning, and consistently lost time as a result,” Mikkelsen noted.
“In the afternoon I tried to pace my tyres better and was happy with my performance on the monster stage, 'Terra Alta'. Despite this, sixth place is not what I was after. Tomorrow we will see a completely different side to Rally Spain. We will run the firmest chassis set-up of the entire season on the asphalt stages. We will have to see what we can achieve after this dramatic change from gravel to asphalt.”
Kris Meeke, Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans hold positions 8 through to 10, with Ford privateer Martin Prokop 11th and WRC2 class leader, Pontus Tidemand 12th.
Tidemand has dominated so far in WRC2, winning two more stages this afternoon, to add to the four he took in the morning. As a result he finishes the leg 33.7s up on Jan Kopecky. Esapekka Lappi holds third, with WRC2 points' leader Nasser Al-Attiyah fourth, losing time in SS8 with a puncture.
“Naturally we are very pleased with this interim result,” said Tidemand. “At first I didn't know how fast we would be, but our times were good. I definitely want to make it to the finish in this rally and pick up points for Skoda Motorsport. But you have to really watch out on the rough gravel tracks since large stones that are best avoided lie in wait at every turn. But our pace notes are very good and the Fabia R5 is working perfectly. Long may it continue.”
Of the rest, former F1 pilot Robert Kubica had a typically mixed day, winning SS3 and SS6, but punctures in SS4 and SS8 dropped him back, leaving him 23rd overall.
RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada now continues on Saturday with the action switching from gravel to asphalt. Eight stages are on the bill, making up a total competitive distance of 123.05km. SS10, the 7.43km Porrera test, is due to start tomorrow at 09.15 hours local time [08.15 hours UK time]. Full itinerary for round twelve in WRC 2015 available - HERE
2015 RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada: Overall standings after Stage 9 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 1h 24m 58.4s
2. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +0m 04.0s
3. Ott Tanak
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +0m 11.3s
4. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +0m 26.9s
5. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +0m 29.7s
6. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +0m 37.4s
7. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +0m 38.3s
8. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +0m 59.4s
9. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +1m 03.8s
10. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 09.2s
11. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2m 26.5s
12. Pontus Tidemand
Skoda Fabia R5 +3m 10.6s
13. Stephane Lefebvre
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +3m 32.1s
14. Jan Kopecky
Skoda Fabia R5 +3m 44.3s
15. Esapekka Lappi
Skoda Fabia R5 +3m 50.0s
16. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Skoda Fabia R5 +4m 54.4s
17. Eric Camilli
Ford Fiesta R5 +5m 20.7s
23. Robert Kubica
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +8m 39.0s
WRC2 standings after Stage 9 (Top 3):
1. Pontus Tidemand
Skoda Fabia R5 1h 28m 09.0s
2. Jan Kopecky
Skoda Fabia R5 +0m 33.7s
3. Esapekka Lappi
Skoda Fabia R5 +0m 39.4s
SS2. Lorenzo Bertelli
Ford Fiesta RS WRC Rolled
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial