A dominant drive moved Sebastien Ogier clear of the WRC Rally Spain field as Toyota Gazoo Racing put one hand on the manufacturers’ crown on Saturday.
Ogier, the eight-time and reigning WRC champion, is on course to claim his first victory of the FIA World Rally Championship’s all-new hybrid era on only his fifth start aboard a Rally1-specification GR Yaris.
The 38-year-old Frenchman, who elected to run a part-time WRC schedule this year to concentrate on his WEC ambitions, was virtually untouchable through Saturday’s second leg. He won four out of seven of the flowing all-asphalt stages in the Costa Daurada hills to turn a slender 4.8s overnight lead into a 20.7s advantage over Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville with one day remaining.
Watch day two highlights below:
Barring any major dramas, Ogier’s Toyota Gazoo Racing factory squad is almost guaranteed to seal a second consecutive WRC manufacturers’ championship title on Sunday.
“It’s been a very enjoyable day for us,” said Ogier. “We had good fun in the car and the times were following. That’s always what you dream for when you come to a rally.
“Honestly, I have been happy with my season so far, but of course it would be nice to clinch a win. Now we are in a good position, but there is still a long way to go.”
Neuville moved into the runner-up spot late in the day — grabbing the position from Ogier’s teammate, newly-crowned 2022 champ Kalle Rovanpera, who dropped a chunk of time when he selected the wrong engine map on the start line of the day’s penultimate stage, El Montmell 2. At close of play just 1.4s separated the pair, setting up an exciting duel for Sunday’s closing leg.
Prior to the switch in places, it had been a generally frustrating day for Neuville as he fought to optimize the setup of his i20 N Rally1. Despite continuously making tweaks to the car, the winner of the previous two runnings of WRC Rally Spain could not find a satisfactory balance between understeer and a nervous rear-end breaking free.
Neuville’s teammate, Ott Tanak, ended 15.9s behind in fourth overall. The Estonian’s day was relatively drama free and he headed fifth-placed Dani Sordo — also driving a factory i20 N Rally1 — by 36.6s at the overnight halt.
Local hero Sordo’s Saturday was one of two halves. The morning was filled with frustration as he repeatedly dropped time to the leading crews. But mid-leg setup tweaks rejuvenated the Spaniard and he even grabbed a stage win late in the afternoon.
Elfyn Evans remained a lackluster sixth overall, 14.4s down on Sordo. His Toyota ran without problems but, like Sordo, something was missing for the 33-year-old Welshman and he couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was.
Tire management was the major talking point for M-Sport Ford team leader Craig Breen, who held seventh overall in his Puma Rally1. The Irishman couldn’t jell with the setup of the car, which resulted in him overheating the front tires on several occasions. He languished 1m39.7s back from the lead in seventh overall, but still pulled clear of Toyota development driver Takamoto Katsuta.
M-Sport Ford’s French duo Adrien Fourmaux and Pierre-Louis Loubet completed the leaderboard. The latter broke into the top 10 at the expense of teammate Gus Greensmith, who retired when he collided with a guardrail on a right-hand turn in the final stage of the morning loop.
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Teemu Suninen is on course to claim his first victory of the 2022 season after building a commanding lead.
It was a perfect day for the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 driver, who ended Friday’s opening leg with a 12.7s lead, but more than doubled that advantage after punching in three fastest stage times — eventually arriving back to the PortAventura World service park in Salou with a 26.6s buffer over Yohan Rossel’s Citroen C3 and holding 11th overall.
In the battle for the overall WRC2 title, Emil Lindholm is on a recovery drive after losing over a minute on Friday when a spin resulted in a rear puncture. Driving a Toksport-prepared Fabia, the 26-year-old Finn cut scythed through the leaderboard to finish 41.1s back from the podium in fourth.
Lindholm’s nearest title rival Kajetan Kajetanowicz also spun on Friday, although the Polish Skoda driver was unable to climb any higher than sixth in class. As it stands, the championship will be decided at Japan’s WRC finale next month.
Sunday’s short final leg features two passes through Pratdip (7.55 miles) and Riudecanyes (9.88 miles). The former is extended by approximately 1.25 miles from last year, while Riudecanyes is well-known for the roundabout (traffic circle) at Coll de la Teixeta, where drivers complete a 360-degree donut in front of huge hillside crowds.
The second pass of Riudecanyes forms the rally-closing Wolf Power Stage, with bonus points on offer to the fastest five crews.
WRC Rally Spain, leading positions after Day Two, SS15
1 Sebastien Ogier/Benjamin Veillas (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 2h10m18.5s
2 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +20.7s
3 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +22.1s
4 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +36.6s
5 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m13.2s
6 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m27.6s
7 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +1m39.7s
8 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m58.6s
9 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +2m13.7s
10 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +2m59.2s
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