Dani Sordo leads his Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville after the opening morning on Rally de España in Catalonia, as Sébastien Ogier’s title hopes suffered a serious setback.
Following the Shakedown and spectacular ceremonial start on the seafront in Salou on Thursday, the rally got underway on Friday morning with a loop of three stages run mostly on gravel, which will be repeated in the afternoon before the switch to asphalt for Saturday.
Heavy rain in the region at the beginning of the week resulted in unpredictable grip levels, while several asphalt sections added to the challenges in the 38.85 kilometre long stage “La Fatarella-Vilalba” – the longest of the rally which rounded out the loop.
Ogier had an ideal start by winning the opening speed test, but an hydraulic issue on his Citroën caused his power steering to fail in SS2. The reigning World Champion dropped over 40 seconds and although he tried to make repairs on the road section before the start of SS3, he lost almost three minutes in the last stage of the morning. Ogier is now at the 28th place overall and will have to rely on problems suffered by his rivals to keep his hope of a seventh title alive.
Just one second slower than Ogier in SS1, Neuville won SS2 to take the lead in front of Sordo, but the Spanish hero moved set a faster time in SS3 to take the lead.
In first position on the road, Tänak enjoyed a solid morning and moved up to third on SS3 in front of his Toyota team-mate Kris Meeke. Elfyn Evans also overtook Meeke in fourth at the end of the morning.
Hyundai’s third driver Sébastien Loeb returned for his first WRC event since Portugal. He made an adverse tyre choice by taking five hard compounds, which caused him to struggle for grip at the start of the morning but to set the fastest stage time in SS3. He finished Friday morning in sixth overall.
Finnish trio Esapekka Lappi, Jari-Matti Latvala and Teemu Suninen are next in the ranking, with Toyota protégé Takamoto Katsuta rounding out the top 10 on his second start at this level.
Mads Østberg leads FIA WRC 2 Pro for Citroën in 11th overall, 4.5 seconds in front of Nil Solans, who leads FIA WRC 2 on his home event in a Volkswagen Polo. Østberg holds an advantage of 10.9 seconds over WRC 2 Pro champion Kalle Rovanperä, who is just behind WRC 2 championship leader Pierre-Louis Loubet overall.