Thierry Neuville has ripped the lead of Rally Spain from Elfyn Evans’ grasp by 0.3 seconds as Evans was lucky to escape a hairy moment right at the beginning of SS5.
Evans has been in control of the first day in Spain ever since he bossed the opener, beating everybody by over five seconds there.
Although he ceded the stage victory to Neuville on the first stage after service, it was only by 0.3s and therefore everything was under control for the Toyota driver.
But that all changed from the very first seconds on La Grandella 2 when Evans took a dirty cut, the rear of his Toyota twitched and he bounced off the roadside kerb before continuing on his way.
“Yeah it was a pretty big moment to be fair,” Evans admitted. “I just got caught out by the gravel and she just took off.
“That came as a bit of a surprise and naturally then I was a bit tentative through some of the other places.”
It’s unclear what caused such a dramatic pace swing – whether Evans was spooked or if Neuville was that much better – but Hyundai’s Neuville was sensational on SS5, outpacing Evans by 7.9s.
He had been complaining of understeer all day but on the dirtier SS5 he was able to drive around the problem.
“The car was working better and we are getting in the right direction,” said Neuville.
“Obviously when the road is quite dirty it’s less of a handicap for us as when we have to drive like on circuit and use all the road we still struggle with the balance.
“In this condition I was able to take more out of the car and obviously you can immediately see it in the time.”
Ogier had a small moment of his own through the same corner as Evans and was once again beaten by his Toyota team-mate, trailing the rally leader now by 18.1s as what’s looking like a two-horse race for the win establishes itself.
“It was very dirty and I was not comfortable with the dirt,” said a deflated Ogier.
Sordo chewed 0.9s out of his deficit to Ogier to remain in fourth overall, lying 5.7s behind the Toyota now in the fight for the lowest step on the podium.
He was however carrying some damage to the rear-left wheel on his Hyundai, and was full of admiration for his team-mate’s stage-winning effort.
“We went wide in one corner which was very dirty,” Sordo said of the damage.
“OK to understand the time of Thierry, he is really fast when it’s like this, he is doing amazing. The gap with Ogier is still there, the rally is long so we try to keep pushing.”
Kalle Rovanperä is slipping into a rather anonymous fifth overall, and he duly set the fifth fastest time on SS5. He has 10.8s to make up on Sordo’s fourth place but holds a comfortable 32.8s over Adrien Fourmaux in sixth.
Gus Greensmith is another 16.7s down on his M-Sport team-mate in seventh spot while the 2C Competition Hyundais are also formation flying in eighth and ninth overall.
Oliver Solberg heads World Rally Car debutante Nil Solans by 31.3s.
Mads Østberg’s WRC2 title defense has taken a major hit as he was forced to pull up and change his front-right tire after puncturing on SS5.
Against fellow WRC refugee Andreas Mikkelsen, Østberg needs to claim maximum points on Rally Spain in order to make Mikkelsen’s – who isn’t competing this weekend – under pressure on his final round of the season: Monza.
Østberg had been leading the class by 4.1s over fellow Citroën C3 Rally2 driver and old M-Sport team-mate from 2016 Eric Camilli.
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 11m49.2s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +7.9s
3 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai) +9.2s
4 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +10.1s
5 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +12.2s
Leading positions after SS5
1 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 52m48.4s
2 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +0.3s
3 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +18.1s
4 Sordo/Carrera (Hyundai) +23.8s
5 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +34.6s
6 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +1m07.4s
7 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +1m23.8s
8 Oliver Solberg/Craig Drew (Hyundai) +1m46.4s
9 Nil Solans/Marc Marti (Hyundai) +2m17.7s
10 Eric Camilli/Maxime Vilmot (Citroën) +3m25.8s