Mads Østberg retains the overnight lead in Spain, but he’s got a cushion of just 27.2 seconds over second placed Sébastien Loeb as the Rally de España heads for two days on asphalt roads. Østberg is always impressive on gravel, but he was still at school the last time that Loeb was beaten in Spain.
No pressure then, Mads!
The superstar in his Citroën was content to play a waiting game on the first full day, taking great pains to avoid silly mistakes in a gruesomely wet and treacherous pair of loops which saw several other lead entries slip up. Whenever the going was good, Loeb stepped it up and vaulted up the order from fourth to second but it was clear that he is simply biding his time now in readiness for the coming asphalt action.
Third place overnight is being held by the charging works Ford Fiesta WRC of Jari-Matti Latvala. In his last appearance at the wheel of an M-Sport-prepared car, the Finn put on a decent spurt and remains just 20s shy of Loeb. Latvala’s only desire at this stage in the season is to take on and beat the mighty nine-time champion in order to claim his first asphalt victory, thereby fulfilling one of the biggest aims of his career and to make a suitable parting gift to the M-Sport team.
Just behind the top three are Mikko Hirvonen in the second works Citroën and Ott Tänak’s M-Sport Fiesta. A mighty chasm of almost five minutes follows them, but remarkably sixth place in the running is held by the S2000 Ford Fiesta of Irish youngster Craig Breen.
Breen was helped up the order by a time-consuming puncture for Jarkko Nikara in the Prodrive MINI WRC, while S2000 favourite Sébastien Ogier’s Volkswagen-run Skoda Fabia S2000 stopped on the road section before Salou.
Breen therefore holdsthe lead in the SWRC class as well as his sixth spot on the leaderboard, ahead of Hans Weijs Jr in the Qatar Citroen. Nikara is eighth, while SWRC contender PG Andersson is ninth in his Proton Satria Neo, after losing time with a driveshaft breakage in the morning and then an error in the afternoon. The Top 10 is rounded out by Russian driver Evgeny Novikov’s M-SPort Ford Fiesta WRC, which is shod with DMACK tyres for the first time.
And so we move on to the asphalt…