Hyundai Motorsport’s Andreas Mikkelsen began the day at the head of the field, after a solid day spent monstering Friday’s six gravel stages. Yet, the Norwegian’s loose surface roots swiftly came to the fore, and it only took one stage, the opening run through El Montmell, before he was forced to cede the lead to Citroen’s Kris Meeke.
Meeke’s run through the 24.4km of El Montmell was nothing short of jaw-dropping, and his eventual time of 12:22 dead was 3.6 seconds quicker than next placed man, local hero, Dani Sordo, allowing him to stay 9.1 seconds ahead of M-Sport’s Sebastian Ogier in second. While Meeke failed to trouble the top step of the podium stage time wise for the rest of the day, he was able to prove his ability to manage a lead and absorb pressure, meaning he ended the day at the top of the standings with a 13 second lead over Ogier.
Ogier’s Saturday saw him bounce up and down the order, dropping to third thanks to the efforts of Dani Sordo, then team-mate Tanak. SS10 and SS11 (El Montmell and El Pont d’Armentera) forced him off the podium and into fourth, though he proved far more at home in SS12, the second blast through the 14.2km of Savella. The Frenchman won the stage by a scant 0.6 seconds from Ott Tanak, with both the M-Sport Fiestas looking very much at home on the Catalan tarmac.
M-Sport undoubtedly benefited from Hyundai’s misfortune however, with the leading car of Dani Sordo retiring after hitting a rock, the very same rock team-mate Mikkelsen had hit on the same stage, SS12! The sudden demise of the leading i20 WRCs on Savella well and truly upended the running order, allowing both Fiestas into second and third respectively, and promoting the Toyota Yaris of Juho Hänninen to fourth and the sole remaining i20 WRC of Neuville to fifth.
Neuville had endured a tough day before his unexpected promotion thanks to hydraulic issues post SS8. This was compounded by a minor off during the road section leading to the next stage, and this ultimately saw the Belgian slapped with a 30 second time penalty. He fought back by winning SS10 and was eventually able to benefit from Saturday’s tumultuous afternoon, though he still sits 52.1 seconds off the lead and 19.2 seconds behind Hänninen.
Esapekka Lappi and Mads Ostberg traded times throughout the day, though it was the young Finn that ended the day victorious with a 17.7 second advantage. Stephane Lefebvre completes Saturday in eighth, with Elfyn Evans a distant ninth, 1:14 seconds behind the young Frenchman’s Citroen.
In WRC2 Teemu Suninen began Saturday with a scarcely believable lead of 1:02.2 seconds over Jan Kopecky, a man with far more experience and an enviable CV at the upper echelons of world rallying.
The need to need to conserve such a hefty margin clearly tested the young Finn though, and his relative lack of sealed surface experience undoubtedly played a part in said lead being scythed as the day progressed.
He ended the day 44.4 seconds ahead of Kopecky, and a gargantuan 3:38.2 in front of third placed Benito Guerra Jr, though he’s clearly well placed to manage such a strong position throughout Sunday.
The battle for the JWRC fight is now all but settled, with Nils Solans moving into the lead of the rally thanks to the misfortune of Nicolas Ciamin.
The Frenchman’s promising run came to an end on SS11 when he plummeted down the order, and Solans was well placed to take full advantage.
The Spaniard now sits a comfortable 29.2 seconds ahead of nearest placed man Terry Folb, and a massive 21:08.7 ahead of Solans.
1) Kris Meeke – Citroen C3 WRC – 2:16:21.1
2) Sebastian Ogier – Ford Fiesta WRC – 2:16:34.1
3) Ott Tanak – Ford Fiesta WRC – 2:16:35.6
4) Juho Hänninen – Toyota Yaris WRC – 2:16:55.1
5) Thierry Neuville – Hyundai i20 WRC – 2:17:14.3
6) Esapekka Lappi – Toyota Yaris WRC – 2:17:43.2
7) Mads Ostberg – Ford Fiesta WRC – 2:18:00.9
8) Stephane Lefebvre – Citroen C3 WRC – 2:18:21.8
9) Elfyn Evans – Ford Fiesta WRC – 2:19:36.2
10) Eric Camilli – Ford Fiesta R5 – 2:22:01.9