Citroen’s Kris Meeke closed in on Rally Spain victory over the three stage Sunday morning loop, as Thierry Neuville’s title challenge unravelled further with retirement.
Meeke was quickest through all three of the stages, most impressively on the second stage of the loop SS15 Riudecanyes.
At the infamous Coll de la Teixeta roundabout where drivers do a donut as part of a stage for watching spectators, his Citroen stuttered exiting the roundabout, costing him what he reckoned to be four seconds.
He extended his lead from overnight to 23.9s at the end of the loop.
Neuville collected a rock on the last stage of the loop, forcing him to retire putting a huge dent in his championship hopes.
He started the event 17 points behind Sebastien Ogier, and won’t score here with two further events remaining.
Neuville’s team-mates Dani Sordo and Andreas Mikkelsen both retired after also hitting rocks, on Saturday.
Behind Meeke the M-Sport battle rages between Ogier and Ott Tanak, with the former ahead by 1.8s with three stages to go and Tanak rounds out the podium spots.
Both can win the title, and were boosted by Neuville’s issues, as were M-Sport who are likely to add to their manufacturers’ championship lead with the three Hyundais out.
Toyota driver Juho Hanninen’s rapid pace on Saturday morning means his fourth place is safe, 1m24.2s clear of Ostberg in fifth.
Stephane Lefebvre upped his pace, but also benefitted from Hanninen’s team-mate Esapekka Lappi crashing on SS15, handing him a net sixth with Neuville still on the timing screens but no longer able to continue.
Elfyn Evans struggled with the turn in after some radical setup changes aboard his DMACK Ford Fiesta, and he’s the last 2017 WRC car in the top 10 in a net seventh.
M-Sport Fiesta R5 driver Teemu Suninen continues to lead the WRC2 class. He sits eighth overall, 36.7s ahead of class rival Ole Christian Veiby’s Skoda Fabia R5.
Leading positions after SS16
|1||Kris Meeke, P.Nagle||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||2h38m51.7s|
|2||Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||23.9s|
|3||Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||25.7s|
|4||Juho Hanninen, K.Lindstrom||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC||Toyota||42.8s|
|5||Thierry Neuville, N.Gilsoul||Hyundai Motorsport||Hyundai||2m12.1s|
|6||Mads Ostberg, T.Eriksen||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||2m17.0s|
|7||Stephane Lefebvre, G.Moreau||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||2m23.0s|
|8||Elfyn Evans, D.Barritt||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||3m59.3s|
|9||Teemu Suninen, M.Markkula||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||7m22.8s|
|10||Ole-Christian Veiby, S.R.Skjaermoen||Printsport||Skoda||7m59.5s|
|11||Jan Kopecky, P.Dresler||Skoda Motorsport II||Skoda||8m00.5s|
|12||Pierre-Louis Loubet, V.Landais||Ford||10m26.4s|
|13||Benito Guerra, D.Cue||Motorsport Italia||Skoda||11m27.5s|
|14||Juuso Nordgren, T.Suominen||Skoda Motorsport II||Skoda||12m13.2s|
|15||Simone Tempestini, G.Bernacchini||Gekon racing||Citroen||12m19.6s|
|16||Khalid Al-Qassimi, C.Patterson||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||13m39.7s|
|17||Dani Sordo, M.Marti||Hyundai Motorsport||Hyundai||14m19.5s|
|18||Andreas Mikkelsen, A.Jager||Hyundai Motorsport||Hyundai||15m18.8s|