EGG IN THE FACE MOMENT FOR ME…
When I wrote the previous article this morning before the RallyRacc Catalunya started, I said that I doubt Loeb would be able to pull off his 10th win in succession in Spain.
Well to say the least, Sebastien Loeb made me look more stupid than the youngsters he reeled in to take the lead at close of business today. Thank goodness I did not add this morning that he may make his mark Saturday or Sunday when the rally moves from Friday’s gravel to smooth asphalt on the last two days, as Loeb would have made a total fool of me, by beating all comers even on gravel.
Still, there is a long way to go and my initial prediction may still come true and ons should also consider that Loeb had a squeaky clean run on Friday.
Tanak must have slept easier last night than on Thursday evening, as Ogier his closest rival lost around four minutes on Friday because of a burst hydraulic pipe serving the power steering system.
Loëb parked his Hyundai on Friday evening leading Neuville by 1,7s and Dani Sordo by 7,6s while title contender Ogier parked his car with blistered hands after battling through two stages without power steering pushing him down the ranks to 17th position.
Ogier led initially before hitting trouble and allowing Neuville, the only other driver capable of lifting the crown, into top spot. He in turn was overhauled by Sordo, who led for three of the six tests, before Loeb gate crashed the party to become the day’s fourth leader.
“I pushed really on the limit in the last stage,” said the 45-year-old Frenchman, who was only sixth at the midpoint but ended the day with three stage wins.
“The grip was very good and I tried hard from the start until the last metre. It’s incredible to have three Hyundais at the front. We didn’t believe that when we started and I didn’t believe I would lead.” (Ed note: So I was not the only one?)
Neuville never put a foot wrong, despite struggling with visibility in the late-evening sunshine. The Belgian must win this weekend, but even that may not be enough to deny Tänak.
Sordo headed Neuville by almost five seconds before the closing stage. He was powerless to explain a 20sec deficit to Loeb through the test, and also slipped behind Neuville.
Kris Meeke held fourth despite a close call this morning when a bump threw his Yaris onto two wheels. The Briton was 5.4sec behind Sordo and 8.7sec clear of Tänak, who could secure the championship this weekend.
Jari-Matti Latvala improved throughout the day to climb to sixth in the final stage, demoting Elfyn Evans whose Ford Fiesta ended with a sick engine. Teemu Suninen, Takamoto Katsuta and WRC 2 Pro leader Mads Østberg completed the top 10.
As if Ogier’s problems were not enough, Citroën Racing experienced more problems as Ogier’s team-mate, Esapekka Lappi, retired with engine problems.
Teams had an extended service Friday night as mechanics raced against the clock to switch the cars from gravel to asphalt set-up for tomorrow’s sealed surface action. Competitors face two loops of three tests before a closing blast along Salou seafront. The seven stages total 121.72km
Every Toyota Gazoo driver will today (Sat 26 Nov) have to attack as the Hyundai 1-2-3 does nothing for Toyota’s chances to win the 2019 Manufacturers award.