A drainage cover on the inside of a left-hander shook up the order on Rally Spain, as three drivers suffered punctures and ended Kalle Rovanperä’s hopes of fighting for second.
Rovanperä didn’t lose any positions but he did concede 13.2s to Neuville in their battle over second place, with the reigning world champion now 14.7s behind in third place with only two stages remaining.
“There is some drainage or something on the line which was fine to go over last year. Now it was not,” said Rovanperä.
Rally leader Sébastien Ogier, starting the day with a reasonably-sized lead, had made a point to avoid the corner that he believed had caught other drivers out.
“There was a trick place near the end,” Ogier explained. “I was planning to avoid it anyway as I was not in a pushing mode. There is a small hole that if you go in it, it’s too hard for the tires.”
Neuville went fastest and carved another 3.4s out of Ogier, reducing the lead gap to 14.1s.
Craig Breen had it worst of those who were caught out by the offending drainage, as it appeared to trigger a front-left tire failure coming through a right-left corner sequence.
That deflation sent him straight on for the left-hander of said sequence and up the side of a bank, further damaging the front-left corner of his Ford Puma.
In all Breen lost close to a minute as he had to slow dramatically thereafter, dropping him from seventh to ninth.
“Something broke in a right hander. Halfway through there was a small bump on the entry and I don’t know whether I popped the tire off the bead or what but I was a passenger and just went straight on,” said Breen.
It was a painful reminder of difficulties he’d suffered earlier in the season: “It’s how it is this year.”
There was also a scare for Adrien Fourmaux, who went wide and clipped an armco barrier. It meant the right wing mirror came off but otherwise his Puma was unharmed.
That mistake, though, had nothing to do with any drainage.
“I made a mistake with my pacenote,” said Fourmaux. “I said the corner was opening but it was tightening. We changed the pacenote, it will be better for the second pass”
Was his heart in his mouth when careering towards the armco? “Yeah, a little bit,” he replied.
Ott Tänak confessed he was pushing himself into small mistakes through not having much else to keep himself occupied with, but, with Rovanperä’s puncture, the final podium place is now only 10.8s away.
Fellow Hyundai driver Dani Sordo’s fifth place looks very secure, with half a minute of time gap in each direction. He was having a ball on Riudecanyes, saying: “I take a lot of pleasure, I can do whatever I want in the stage, I can put the car wherever I want.”
Not so for Elfyn Evans, who like Rovanperä and Breen also suffered a front-left puncture in the same section of stage. But it only cost him 10.3s and he remains a comfortable sixth.