Meeke closes on victory as Neuville retires

Jack Benyon
This article first appeared on autosport.com

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

Pos Driver Team Car Gap
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

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