Thierry Neuville’s hopes of taking the title fight with Ott Tänak to Australia continue to hang by a thread as the Belgian leads Rally Spain with four stage remaining.
Neuville tops the timesheets ahead of teammate Dani Sordo by a huge 21.5 seconds, but a storming Tänak won four stages on Saturday to ensure he’s just 3.1 seconds behind him and could wrap up the championship if he finishes second and scores bonus points on the Power Stage tomorrow.
Neuville overtook Sebastien Loeb on the opening stage on Saturday and didn’t look back, gradually increasing his lead over his teammates as he looks set to claim a maiden win on Rally Spain.
Friday leader Loeb now lies fourth after struggling to keep up his pace on the Spanish asphalt stages after the switch from gravel yesterday. He lost third to Tänak on the final stage of the day but does trail the Toyota man by just 0.6 seconds.
Fifth is now Jari-Matti Latvala, who could now play a vital role in scoring vital manufacturer points for the team with Hyundai set to score big ahead after Kris Meeke, who had just got ahead of Sordo on stage eight, ran wide on the next test and clipped a barrier that ripped his rear right wheel off and he took no further part in the rest of the day.
The Finn is comfortably ahead of M-Sport Ford pair Elfyn Evans, who struggled for pace throughout the day and Teemu Suninen with Sebastien Ogier, who has switched focus to testing and improving the Citroen C3 WRC after his hydraulic problem yesterday all but ended his title hopes still several minutes adrift in eighth.
Teammate Esapekka Lappi did not restart on Saturday morning after his engine problems yesterday while Takamoto Katsuta in the fourth Toyota suffered gearbox problems that cost him over 17 minutes on the opening stage of the day.
WRC2 PRO continued to be led by Mads Østberg, although the Norwegian struggled across the seven tests and unlike yesterday, didn’t win a single stage. He still however has a 42.1 second lead in the class, now over Jan Kopecký who’s second after late drama for Kalle Rovanperä.
PRO champion Rovanperä had set a string of stage fastest times throughout Saturday to cut the gap to Østberg to under ten seconds, but on the final stage of the day he crashed his Skoda Fabia and damaged the rear axel on the car. He completed the stage but lost over 40 seconds to stage winner Kopecký. Gus Greensmith completes the four runners in Spain.
Eric Camilli meanwhile took control of WRC2, with the French driver who is well known for his expertise in tarmac rallying building up over a minute lead over day one rival Pierre-Louis Loubet. Nil Solans, who had been running near the front yesterday before suffering a double puncture, again showed his pace and won five stages.
In the battle for the class title, Loubet looks set for another strong points haul as he sits second but knows that Kajetan Kanjetanowicz lies just position behind in third. He battled with Emil Lindholm, with the Polish driver 10.5 seconds ahead at the end of Saturday.
Rally Spain continues tomorrow with four more stages totalling 74.14km