Thierry Neuville has slipped further away from Elfyn Evans’ rally lead after the final Friday morning test of Rally Spain, frustrated by the handling of his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
Neuville dropped 5.1 seconds to Evans on SS1 but was the quickest car behind the rally leader, and then set an identical time to a tenth of a second as Evans’ Toyota on SS2.
But on SS3 he dropped 2.8s to Evans and was also beaten by Sébastien Ogier’s Toyota and Hyundai team-mates Dani Sordo and Ott Tänak, who set an identical time.
Neuville – who won Rally Spain in 2019 – had been quickest through the opening split but as the stage got more technical and twisty he dropped back.
Asked if he could explain his time loss, Neuville bluntly said: “Yeah, understeer. I try really hard but no way, no way. I can’t even turn.”
Evans therefore chalked up another stage win, edging Ogier by 1.4s, to lead Neuville by 7.9s after the first loop. Ogier – who is disputing the World Rally Championship title with Evans – is 12.6s adrift of the lead.
“I need to find a bit more pace for sure, Elfyn was very quick this morning,” Ogier admitted.
Sordo had looked set to put Ogier’s third place under more pressure but a small mistake where he ran wide on loose gravel cost him time, and meant he completed SS3 a mere 0.4s slower than the seven-time world champion.
“Sometimes on gravel it’s better to start at the back on Tarmac it’s worse, it’s like this,” assessed Sordo.
Tänak has begun plotting a comeback following a spin at the start of SS2. He went 4.3s quicker than Kalle Rovanperä to narrow his deficit to fifth place to eight seconds.
“A lot cleaner than the last one, so happy to be here let’s say,” Tänak said of his stage.
Rovanperä meanwhile has struggled to adjust to the asphalt tires in his Toyota, admitting: “I can’t say that I’m really happy at any point but we are making progress all the time.”
M-Sport drivers Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith could not be split on SS3, sharing the seventh-fastest time – 9.5s down on Evans’ benchmark.
But overall it’s Fourmaux that heads Greensmith by 11.6s, although he’s finding the going “quite frustrating” as he’s “still trying to find the right set-up for me”.
Oliver Solberg holds ninth overall in his 2C Competition Hyundai, keen just to chalk up a trouble-free rally. He’s 18.2s ahead of Nil Solans who is deputizing for the injured Pierre-Louis Loubet.
Solans’ SS3 was fraught as he suffered a spin towards the end, getting sucked into a cut that pirouetted his Hyundai around.
“I came to the limit of the tire really soon on the stage, and on a gravel, slow, right corner I spun. It was so narrow it take a bit of time to come back,” he said.
Mads Østberg needs to win WRC2 this weekend if he wants to retain his title, but currently his former M-Sport WRC team-mate Eric Camilli is spoiling the party.
Camilli leads Østberg’s fellow Citroën C3 Rally2 by a mere 0.4s, while Teemu Suninen completes the early WRC2 podium on his first event in a Hyundai i20 N Rally2.
Emil Lindholm leads WRC3 over Kajetan Kajetanowicz while Jon Armstrong is in control of Junior WRC; a position that sets him up for the title with Rally Spain the final round of the five-event season.
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) 8m30.8s
2 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +1.4s
3 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai) +1.8s
4 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +2.8s
5 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +2.8s
6 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +7.1s
Leading positions after SS3
1 Evans/Martin (Toyota) 30m33.7s
2 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +7.9s
3 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +12.6s
4 Sordo/Carrera (Hyundai) +16.7s
5 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +25.1s
6 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +33.1s
7 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +48.3s
8 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +59.9s
9 Oliver Solberg/Craig Drew (Hyundai) +1m12.0s
10 Nil Solans/Marc Marti (Hyundai) +1m30.2s