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Toyota’s Ott Tanak continued to dominate Rally Spain on Friday’s afternoon loop, as he chases his fourth World Rally Championship victory in five events.
Referred to as the ‘day of gravel’, in recent years the rally’s first full day has shaken up the competitive order before crews return to asphalt legs on Saturday and Sunday.
The loose conditions favoured Tanak, who ended the day in a comfortable lead and well clear of title rivals Sebastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville – who he needs to finish ahead of to have a realistic shot at winning the crown on Rally Australia next month.
Despite a continuation of the problems he experienced with dampers in the morning, Tanak extended his lead in his Yaris to 26.8 seconds over returning Hyundai driver Dani Sordo on the afternoon’s three stages.
Tanak said: “The dampers really can’t manage and they’re overheating. The car is getting so, so soft.
“In the beginning of the afternoon, the car was really good but then I started to struggle. I still did my best and did everything I could to stay on the road.”
Elfyn Evans was in contention for victory on Rally GB last time out before a misfire forced him to retire his Ford Fiesta WRC, and he appeared to have carried over that underlying pace as he headed Sordo into the day’s final stage.
But a “committed” yet slow run on SS7 dropped him to third, and he ended the afternoon 2.9s behind Sordo – the M-Sport driver blaming inefficiency.
A set-up change to dial-out oversteer allowed Sebastien Loeb to be more aggressive, and in turn he moved up to fourth overall.
He now sits just 0.5s adrift of a potential podium in his Citroen C3 on his final planned outing of the season.
Jari-Matti Latvala will be ruing a suspected broken suspension arm on his Yaris that was sustained in the morning and dropped him down the times.
In the afternoon, he was fastest by four seconds on SS6 and by a further three on SS7 as he climbed to fifth.
Hyundai i20 WRC driver Andreas Mikkelsen also impressed. Despite the extra weight of carrying two spare tyres, he ended the day sixth.
Tanak’s title rivals Ogier and Neuville struggled as the first runners tackling the stages.
The lack of grip means they wind up seventh and ninth respectively, either side of Citroen’s Craig Breen.
While his Toyota stablemates were running strongly, Esapekka Lappi’s difficult rally continued.
He had a spin on the afternoon’s opening stage, a mistake he blamed on himself, and dropped to 10th ahead of Teemu Suninen.
The Volkswagen Polo GTI R5s have the advantage of a low position in the running order on the car’s competitive debut. Eric Camilli made the extra grip available count and heads the WRC2 order in 12th overall.
Behind Camilli, Kalle Rovanpera managed to turn his deficit to new class champion Jan Kopecky into a 9.3s advantage and now tops the Skoda Fabia R5 runners in 13th.
Leading positions after SS7
|1||Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||1h34m27.4s|
|2||Dani Sordo, C.del Barrio||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||26.8s|
|3||Elfyn Evans, D.Barritt||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||29.7s|
|4||Sebastien Loeb, D.Elena||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||30.2s|
|5||Jari-Matti Latvala, M.Anttila||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||37.6s|
|6||Andreas Mikkelsen, A.Jager||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||39.1s|
|7||Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||39.4s|
|8||Craig Breen, S.Martin||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||44.7s|
|9||Thierry Neuville, N.Gilsoul||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||59.7s|
|10||Esapekka Lappi, J.Ferm||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||1m07.4s|