for RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de Espana leaderboard after SS15
Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier retook the lead on RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de Espana on Saturday afternoon and now looks well placed to secure his fourth WRC Drivers' title.
Ogier halved Dani Sordo's overnight lead this morning, and continued to reel in the Spaniard on the repeats, finally going in front in the penultimate test of the day, when he took his fifth successive stage win.
Sordo then lost another 4.1secs in the short Salou super special, leaving Ogier with a 5.8sec advantage going into the final leg. He had started the day 17secs adrift.
Ogier's chances of securing the 2016 WRC Drivers' title were also further boosted this afternoon when Andreas Mikkelsen – his closest rival – crashed out in SS12. Mikkelsen had been running third overall. He will not re-start. It means only Thierry Neuville remains a theoretical threat, although for the Belgian to remain in contention he needs to win here and score maximum points in the Power Stage, with Ogier failing to score at all.
“The end of a long day with some good times so I'm happy with that,” Ogier told the official WRC site.
“Dani was very strong but we managed to come back so I'm happy with that. Sunday will be exciting as well.
“Okay, we have not so much pressure in the drivers' championship now [after Mikkelsen's crash], but there's still the manufacturers' championship and I don't want to do anything bad for the team.”
Meanwhile, Sordo said he did all he could to hold off Ogier: “It's impossible,” Sordo said post-SS13. “I am on the limit - too much. It's okay, it's like this. A bit frustrated, but that's life."
Speaking after SS14, he added: “We still have understeer. We tried to drive a little slower to see if that improved the grip but we made a small mistake in the last split.
“I tried to do my best and I am happy with my driving today but okay, I am very disappointed to lose the time.”
After Mikkelsen's retirement in SS12, Neuville holds third, albeit more than a minute off the duel at the front and also only 16.1secs up on Hyundai team-mate Hayden Paddon in fourth.
“It's about holding position and keeping concentration now,” Neuville said after Querol 2. “The set-up is better, but we still struggle with the balance of the car. I know I can go faster but I need more confidence at the front.”
Behind, Kris Meeke is fifth in his Citroen DS 3 WRC, 37.8secs up on M-Sport's Mads Ostberg despite a spin in SS12.
“I spun in fifth gear up the middle of the road,” Meeke confirmed. “I thought I'd got away with it until we lost the bumper. Too many silly mistakes this rally, I need to eliminate them.”
DMACK's Ott Tanak and Hyundai fourth driver Kevin Abbring round out the top eight, with Martin Prokop ninth and WRC2 class leader, Jan Kopecky tenth.
Kopecky is 14.3secs up on Skoda team-mate and nearest class rival, Pontus Tidemand, despite losing over 20secs in SS13 with a puncture. Frigyes Turan is third in WRC2, but more than 12 minutes back.
As for retirements, in addition to Mikkelsen, M-Sport's #2 Eric Camilli had to call it a day after SS12 when he suffered a transmission problem. Camilli had been ninth.
Craig Breen also had a miserable day, and while he did not retire, driveshaft problems in the morning dropped him from 8th to 15th. He then had set-up issues in the afternoon, before suffering a spin in SS15. He ended the day 13th.
RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de Espana now concludes on Sunday, with two stages on the bill, both to be run twice.
SS16, the 19.30km Pratdip 1 test, is due to start at 07.24 hours local time [06.24 hours UK time].