Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier has concluded day two of RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada with a very solid 50+ second advantage.
Ogier extended his overnight lead this morning from 4s to 51.4s, with closest rival and team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala struggling with brake problems in SS10 and SS11, before a puncture in SS12 cost the Finn 50s.
Ogier then consolidated his lead in the afternoon, winning two more stages, to end the day with five wins from a possible eight.
“It's been fun all day, I'm really happy,” the three-time World Rally Champion told the official WRC site. “The car has been perfect.
“Okay, with the big gap [after Latvala's puncture] I've been able to take it easy when the road has been dirty but when it's clean I still push.”
“Another fantastic day for me,” Ogier added back in service. “The asphalt stages are fantastic. As a driver, you have an incredible amount of fun in the cockpit and I am coping better with the new Michelin tyres than I did with the previous version.
“The Polo R WRC is reacting absolutely perfectly to any movements of the steering wheel. It is like being on a racetrack, with the difference being that we also use the width of the streets for the racing line but don't have any run-off zones. That gets the adrenalin pumping a bit.
“I knew I would have to put my foot down from the word go to keep Jari-Matti, in particular, at bay. When he suffered his puncture, which led to us having a larger lead, we were able to take a few less risks.”
Meanwhile, having dropped to fourth after SS12, Latvala has hauled himself back up to second, leapfrogging both Andreas Mikkelsen and Hyundai's Dani Sordo with his third stage win of the day in SS16.
“I got off lightly today and I am still second,” Latvala said. “In the morning I had problems under braking. Once I had solved them, I immediately set about trying to regain the time I lost. In doing so, I took too many risks and suffered a puncture in a right-hander, early into the twelfth stage.
“I could obviously say goodbye to any hopes of winning after that. Despite this, I was able to regain second place by the end of the day. I will try to defend that position through to the finish.”
“We have had a good feeling with the car today and we have pushed as hard as we could in all stages,” Sordo added. “We have tried to take the fight to those in front of us, and we have shown that we are here to push for the podium. We benefited a bit from others misfortune earlier to take second place but we knew it would be hard to defend that from the VWs.
“Still, we made some good improvements and have given everything. We head into the final day well within reach of a podium and with six stages left to run, we have every chance of achieving that. We'll certainly try!”
Behind, Kris Meeke now lies ahead of Citroen team-mate, Mads Ostberg in fifth – 1.5s the difference – after the Norwegian made a “stupid mistake” and stalled at the first junction in the day ending 2.24km Salou super special.
“We played with the set-up of the car today to find the right balance for tarmac," Meeke reflected. "It's almost like driving on a racetrack here, so the slightest change to the set-up can have a dramatic effect on the overall handling of the car. The final stage was very encouraging. We have to maintain that pace and try to bring home as many points as possible tomorrow!”
"We had to find the right feeling in the car this morning," Ostberg added. "With the team, we managed to improve the set-up so that we had a better balance for the second loop. I just made a little mistake on the final stage. We fought hard throughout the leg for every second and then we go and lose three by stalling just before the end of the day. It's frustrating, but overall, I think we can be pretty happy with the day.”
Hyundai duo Hayden Paddon and Thierry Neuville are joint seventh, although the former has suffered two punctures – one this morning in SS10 and another this afternoon in SS15.
“We had an OK day in places and had it not been for two separate punctures things might have looked very different on the classification. It was frustrating to lose 20 seconds on the opening stage of the day but it was my mistake,” Paddon noted.
“I just cut a corner too much and hit a rock. We were lucky to get away with it. We set some good times other than those issues and have shown a decent improvement compared to last year. We were perhaps overdriving in places so we'll push the reset button tonight and see what we can salvage tomorrow.”
“I am really pleased with the progress we have made today,” Neuville continued. “We struggled a bit on the opening two stages, but then set the fourth fastest time in SS12, which definitely gave us some encouragement.
“We were a bit cautious on the final stage of the morning but we made some changes to the pace notes for the afternoon loop and stiffened the set-up of the car to give us more lateral grip. It was a move in the right direction and gave us a much better balance from the car.
“I'm happy with what we've achieved today and will look to push more in the final stages tomorrow.”
Ford privateer Martin Prokop and WRC2 class leader Pontus Tidemand complete the top-ten, the latter easing off this afternoon. That has allowed Jan Kopecky to close, although he still remains 30.1s adrift. Eric Camilli is third in WRC2.
As for retirements, M-Sport duo Ott Tanak and Elfyn Evans both retired on the first loop. Tanak, who had been third overnight, hit a barrier in SS11 and knocked off a wheel. Evans then went off the road in SS13 and beached his Fiesta RS WRC. The Welshman had been ninth. Both are due to re-start on Sunday.
Lorenzo Bertelli re-started this morning under Rally 2, but crashed out in the opening test – just like on Friday.
Citroen's Stephane Lefebvre was also forced out early on, retiring on the road section to SS10 – the first stage of the day – with brake system issues.
The event now concludes on Sunday, with six stages on the bill and a total competitive distance of 76.40 km. SS18, the 6.80km Els Guiamets 1 test, is due to start tomorrow at 07.17 hours local time [06.17 hours UK time]. Full itinerary for round twelve in WRC 2015 available - HERE
2015 RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada: Overall standings after Stage 17 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 2h 34m 56.4s
2. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +0m 54.0s
3. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +0m 56.9s
4. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +1m 01.4s
5. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +1m 42.2s
6. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +1m 43.7s
7. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +1m 56.5s
8. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +1m 56.5s
9. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +4m 22.9s
10. Pontus Tidemand
Skoda Fabia R5 +7m 12.6s
11. Jan Kopecky
Skoda Fabia R5 +7m 42.7s
12. Eric Camilli
Ford Fiesta R5 +8m 42.8s
13. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Skoda Fabia R5 +10m 59.3s
14. Armin Kremer
Skoda Fabia R5 +11m 23.5s
16. Robert Kubica
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +12m 29.6s
17. Khalid Al-Qassimi
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +14m 41.9s
WRC2 standings after Stage 17 (Top 3):
1. Pontus Tidemand
Skoda Fabia R5 2h 42m 09.0s
2. Jan Kopecky
Skoda Fabia R5 +0m 30.1s
3. Eric Camilli
Ford Fiesta R5 +1m 30.2s
SS2. Lorenzo Bertelli
Ford Fiesta RS WRC Rolled
SS9/SS10. Stephane Lefebvre
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC Retired on road section to SS10 - mechanical
SS10. Lorenzo Bertelli
Ford Fiesta RS WRC Crashed
SS11. Ott Tanak
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Took a wheel off
SS11. Esapekka Lappi
Skoda Fabia R5 Crashed
SS13. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Off road
*denotes re-started on Saturday under Rally 2
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial