Meeke storms into lead, Neuville falls away

Jack Benyon
This article first appeared on autosport.com

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

Pos Class Driver Team Car Gap
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

 

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