Catalunya WRC: Sordo leads Neuville, drama for Ogier

Dani Sordo leads Thierry Neuville in a Hyundai one-two in Rally Catalunya as defending WRC champion Sebastien Ogier’s title hopes took a battering.

Catalunya WRC: Sordo leads Neuville, drama for Ogier

Ogier made the best possible start by winning the opening Gandesa stage, pulling a slender 0.7s advantage over Sordo and a further 0.3s over Neuville.

But it all went wrong at the very start of the following Horta-Bot test, as a hydraulic problem on his Citroen C3 WRC caused his paddle-shift and power steering to fail “straight away.”

He haemorrhaged 42s to championship favourite Ott Tanak on stage two and a further 2m47s on the 24 miles of La Fatarella-Vilalba despite attempted repairs between the two tests. Ogier is still in the rally but is 3m36s shy of the lead with “not so much I can do.”

Neuville, whose own championship aspirations are looking bleak with a 41-point deficit to Tanak, gratefully took the lead from Ogier by winning stage two only to lose it to teammate Sordo on the succeeding test.

Sordo picked up a rear puncture “5km from the end” of La Fatarella-Vilalba but still beat Neuville by 1.4s to lead the rally by a single second heading into the afternoon.

Tanak remains in the battle for the win despite being slower than Neuville and Sordo across all three stages, the Toyota man lurking 6.5s behind the two Hyundai’s in third.

Toyota’s Kris Meeke was on the periphery of the podium but slipped back slightly on La Faterella-Vilalba as the stage “didn’t feel nice.”

M-Sport’s Elfyn Evans suffered a “short half-spin” on Horta-Bot but a strong time on stage three vaulted him 0.3s ahead of Meeke and into fourth.

Nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb returned for his first event since Rally Portugal in June and opted for an adverse tyre choice.

Loeb selected five hard compound tyres for his Hyundai with the majority of his rivals on three hards and two mediums.

Initially the gamble looked as if it wouldn’t pay off as he was ninth after the first two stages, but Loeb then blasted to a stage win to climb to sixth, 0.7s behind Meeke and just 0.1s up on Esapekka Lappi who had a strong morning for Citroen.

Jari-Matti Latvala completed Friday morning’s loop a frustrated and downbeat eighth. The Toyota driver couldn’t “get the confidence” with his Yaris and battled with understeer in conditions he expected to be more predictable.

Teemu Suninen was sixth for M-Sport after stage two but dropped to ninth and behind Latvala on the mixed-surface La Faterella-Vilalba after admitting he pushed too hard on the tarmac section of the stage, thus destroying his rear tyres.

Takamoto Katsuta completes the top 10 on his second outing in a Toyota Yaris WRC.

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