Catalunya WRC: Ogier tops opener as Loeb, Block lose time
M-Sport’s Sebastien Ogier opened the World Rally Championship’s penultimate round, Rally Catalunya, by winning the first stage to lead the rally overnight from title rival Thierry Neuville of Hyundai.
Ogier – who trails Neuville by seven points in the standings – rounded the tight and twisty 3.2km asphalt test in 3m35.3s, besting the Belgian by a brilliant 3.7s.
"It won't be easy for the rest of the weekend,” said Ogier. “We had a good strategy on the tyres but now tomorrow we have a little less tyres than everyone else."
Neuville had rolled in the pre-event shakedown, and thanked his mechanics at the end of SS1 for repairing his I20 Coupe WRC in time for the start.
Crucially, he will open the running tomorrow and run first on the road in the rally's gravel phase, clearing a path for those behind.
Ott Tanak made sure all three title rivals were at the head of the order, the Estonian just 0.5s behind Neuville. Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen took fourth ahead of Ogier’s Fiesta teammate Elfyn Evans.
Despite running well down the order and in the dark, when most of his WRC2 rivals had driven in the light, Eric Camilli gave the Volkswagen Polo R5 a stunning competitive debut in sixth. The ex-M-Sport driver has carried out much of the testing on the new car and comfortably topped his class.
Dani Sordo, returning for his home event after a lengthy absence in the car he shares with Hayden Paddon took seventh, ahead of WRC2 runner-up Kalle Rovanpera.
Behind the 18-year-old Skoda Fabia driver, Craig Breen had the honour of being the top Citroen in ninth, as WRC2 champion elect Jan Kopecky rounded out the top 10 ahead of Toyota teammates Jari-Matti Latvala and Esapekka Lappi.
Camilli's teammate Petter Solberg took 15th in the second Volkswagen Polo R5 in competition on his first WRC outing since 2012.
Nine-time champion Sebastien Loeb – appearing in his third event of the year in a Citroen C3 – was 15.9s slower than Ogier and well behind a group of R5 cars in 27th, as was Gymkhana star Ken Block, 26.5s down on Ogier in 32nd.
Block did two extra donuts on his stage than was required as he showboated for the spectators.
Neuville suffers roll during Rally Spain shakedown
Catalunya WRC: Title hopeful Tanak hits back to lead Ogier