Elfyn Evans remains at the head of Rally Spain, while Ott Tänak dropped two places with an “impressive spin”.
Evans – who is now the only driver capable of beating Sébastien Ogier to this year’s World Rally Championship title – was a massive 5.1 seconds faster than anyone else on the first stage to send a warning to his rivals.
His Toyota was still on the pace on La Granadella although Evans felt he was “not as committed as the previous stage,” frequently talking back to co-driver Scott Martin on the stage and correcting pacenotes.
“Not great to be honest, generally I just found myself being too careful on the new notes, obviously it’s a new stage,” Evans said.
Evans equalled stage winner Neuville to the nearest tenth of a second, keeping his overall advantage at 5.1s, but Neuville will be credited with the stage win as he was fractionally faster – but still unhappy.
“I’m trying but I’m not confident in the car,” he said, “I cannot push as much as I want so we need to work on the chassis. Too many moments, I lose the front basically mid-corner, I had to use the handbrake a couple of times to save the car from going off the road.”
Third-placed Ogier was closer to the pace on SS2, dropping 3.1s to the leaders to now trail Neuville by 6.1s and rally leader Evans by 11.2s. However if Ogier wants to claim the world title this weekend one round early, he needs to reverse his deficit to Evans.
“I tried a bit more for sure,” Ogier said. “A bit of sliding at the beginning that I didn’t expect. I have to try but for sure someone who had a good wake up this morning was Elfyn!”
Tänak had been fourth overall, just 0.2s ahead of Hyundai team-mate Dani Sordo ahead of SS2, but has fallen to sixth place with a spin on the first corner of the test. He lost 21.3s to Evans and Neuville to trail by 30.3s overall.
“I had a quite impressive spin immediately, basically first corner,” Tänak said. “We made some stages as the car was always understeering and basically in this first corner it was oversteering. It was quite a big one. Like Kalle [Rovanperä] in Finland, quite an amateur recovery.”
Sordo has shuffled up to fourth due to Tänak’s error and he was neatly fourth fastest on the stage, 5.7s off the pace.
Sordo, who was frustrated by the “dirty” state of the road on the opener, pushed “quite hard” and felt he had a “good rhythm” but wasn’t able to trouble the pacesetters who are starting at the head of the field.
“It’s so difficult, the road is a little bit worse for us but the rally’s long,” he said. “We’ll keep pushing to the end, no problem.”
Kalle Rovanperä was another 1.9s slower than Sordo in his Toyota and still struggling to adjust to the new compound of tires from Pirelli. He’s 3.1s behind Sordo overall but 12.3s up on Tänak.
Adrien Fourmaux remains seventh overall but his M-Sport team-mate Gus Greensmith has risen to eighth at the expense of 2C Competition’s Nil Solans.
Solans – making his World Rally Car debut in place of the injured Pierre-Louis Loubet – has slipped from eighth to 10th and behind team-mate Oliver Solberg as his windshield fogged up towards the end of the test.
“For a moment it was completely fog, I don’t know where it comes from there is no water, maybe some liquid inside the engine or something? I don’t know, we have to check it now.”
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 11m46.0s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +0.0s
3 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +3.1s
4 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai) +5.7s
5 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +7.6s
6 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford) +17.6s
Leading positions after SS2
1 Evans/Martin (Toyota) 22m02.9s
2 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +5.1s
3 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +11.2s
4 Sordo/Carrera (Hyundai) +14.9s
5 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +18.0s
6 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +30.3s
7 Fourmaux/Coria (M-Sport Ford) +38.8s
8 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +50.4s
9 Oliver Solberg/Craig Drew (Hyundai) +55.8s
10 Nil Solans/Marc Marti (Hyundai) +1m01.0s