Kris Meeke rocketed into the lead on Rally Spain’s Saturday morning loop, as World Rally Championship contender Thierry Neuville crashed on the road section before stage nine.
Meeke started the day in third after Friday’s gravel stages but a push on SS7 El Montmell, a stage he and co-driver Paul Nagle identified as one to attack out of the three stage Saturday morning loop, put him into a 9.1s lead he wouldn’t replenish.
He finished the loop 13.5s clear at the top of the leaderboard and described his Citroen as “phenomenal”.
In complete contrast to Meeke’s easy-going morning, Hyundai’s Neuville struggled.
He began the rally 17 points behind title rival Sebastien Ogier, but understeer on the first stage of the morning pushed him back. Hydraulic issues after SS8 El Pont d’Armentera meant his i20 WRC wouldn’t start, and when it eventually did, he rushed towards the next stage.
However, he then went off the road on the road section meaning he arrived three minutes late to the stage incurring a 30 second penalty which drops him to eighth in the order.
M-Sport’s Ott Tanak now holds second in the rally after stealing it from Ford Fiesta WRC team-mate Ogier on the final stage of the loop.Ogier claimed he just needed to “drive faster” and the Frenchman ominously reported after SS9: “This afternoon, we will be faster”.
Dani Sordo had been as high as second in a mid-top 10 pack which was separated by less than five seconds throughout the morning but he ends the loop fourth, only 0.8s behind Ogier on his last rally.
Andreas Mikkelsen began the day in the lead, but he fell quickly as the event hit asphalt in which all three Hyundais suffered understeer.
Mikkelsen lamented a lack of time in the car on asphalt and reasoned that could be the cause of his fall from the top of the order on his competitive i20 WRC debut.
Undoubtedly the fastest man of the morning with two stage wins out of three was a resurgent Juho Hanninen, the Finn leading Toyotas charge and working his way up to sixth at the end of Saturday morning’s action.
He overhauled Mads Ostberg who had a small off on the first stage of the morning, adapting to his first event on asphalt in the new 2017-spec cars, his Ford Fiesta unaffected by the incident.
Behind Neuville, Esapekka Lappi and Stephane Lefebvre of Toyota and Citroen respectively round out the top 10, while Elfyn Evans is the final competitive 2017-spec WRC car in 11th.
Overall order after stage nine
|1||RC1||Kris Meeke, P.Nagle||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||1h42m48.2s|
|2||RC1||Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||13.5s|
|3||RC1||Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||13.8s|
|4||RC1||Dani Sordo, M.Marti||Hyundai Motorsport||Hyundai||14.6s|
|5||RC1||Andreas Mikkelsen, A.Jager||Hyundai Motorsport||Hyundai||20.8s|
|6||RC1||Juho Hanninen, K.Lindstrom||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC||Toyota||27.6s|
|7||RC1||Mads Ostberg, T.Eriksen||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||46.6s|
|8||RC1||Thierry Neuville, N.Gilsoul||Hyundai Motorsport||Hyundai||53.1s|
|9||RC1||Esapekka Lappi, J.Ferm||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC||Toyota||1m17.5s|
|10||RC1||Stephane Lefebvre, G.Moreau||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||1m30.2s|
|11||RC1||Elfyn Evans, D.Barritt||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||2m06.6s|
|12||RC2||Eric Camilli, B.Veillas||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||4m10.6s|
|13||RC2||Teemu Suninen, M.Markkula||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||4m50.9s|
|14||RC2||Ole-Christian Veiby, S.R.Skjaermoen||Printsport||Skoda||5m07.8s|
|15||RC2||Jan Kopecky, P.Dresler||Skoda Motorsport II||Skoda||5m54.1s|
|16||RC2||Pierre-Louis Loubet, V.Landais||Ford||7m01.0s|
|17||RC2||Simone Tempestini, G.Bernacchini||Gekon racing||Citroen||7m15.2s|
|18||RC2||Benito Guerra, D.Cue||Motorsport Italia||Skoda||7m32.4s|
|19||RC1||Khalid Al-Qassimi, C.Patterson||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||8m17.3s|