Neuville and Evans locked in Spanish battle after day 1

Neuville and Evans locked in Spanish battle after day 1

15.10.2021: Belgium’s Thierry Neuville and Welshman Elfyn Evans were separated by just seven-tenths of a second after six asphalt special stages of Rally Spain on Friday.


 Belgium’s Thierry Neuville and Welshman Elfyn Evans were separated by just seven-tenths of a second after six asphalt special stages of Rally Spain on Friday.
 



The morning’s loop of three timed tests had belonged to Evans, while a revitalised Neuville dominated the afternoon loop to set up the prospect of a fascinating tussle over seven further stages on Saturday.
 


Evans made it perfectly clear that he would not concede the FIA World Rally Championship title to team-mate Sébastien Ogier without a fight. He made the perfect start with a flying run through the Vilaplana stage and maintained a vice-like grip on the lead, despite intense pressure from Neuville.
 


But the Belgian redressed the balance on Friday afternoon. “Let’s say feeling more and more comfortable in the car,” said a determined Neuville after stage six. “On those twisty stages I could have been so much faster if I could have got the turn-in (under steer issues). We need to stay in the fight with Elfyn tomorrow. Now we are in the game.”
 


Needing to beat Evans by seven points to seal an eighth world title, Ogier held third overall at the night halt, 5.4 seconds ahead of fourth-placed Spaniard Dani Sordo in the second of the Hyundais.
 



Finland’s Kalle Rovanperä was fifth in a Toyota Yaris and the M-Sport Fords of Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith moved up to sixth and seventh when Estonia’s Ott Tänak left the road in SS4. The Hyundais of young Oliver Solberg and WRC rookie Nil Solans were eighth and ninth.
 


Tenth-placed Frenchman Eric Camilli took a WRC2 lead of 10 seconds over Nikolay Gryazin into the night halt in Salou, after Norway’s early leader Mads Østberg stopped to change a puncture on SS5 and slipped out of contention.
 





Friday – as it happened
 



Evans laid down the gauntlet through the opening Vilaplana stage with a scintillating time of 10min 16.9sec. That enabled the Welshman to surge 8.1 seconds ahead of Ogier and 5.1 in front of Neuville.
 


Local hero Sordo slotted into fifth but Takamoto Katsuta clouted the Armco on a tight corner and badly damaged the front left of his Yaris. The Japanese retired with suspension damage on the road section after the stage. “Unfortunately we had a crash,” said Katsuta. “I hit the barrier at the end of the stage. I misunderstood something from the pace note. Aaron read it correct but I did not understand. It was a tighter corner. Unfortunately it ended by my mistake.”
 


Østberg, Camilli and Suninen were the early class of the WRC2 field, with Emil Lindholm and Spanish rally champion Pepe López in charge in WRC3. Jon Armstrong led the Juniors from Martins Sesks but William Creighton left the road and crashed into a barrier.  
 


Action continued with the 21.80km of the La Grandella special. Cool and cloudy conditions prevailed and Evans managed to pull a further 3.1 second clear of the World Champion despite admitting to being cautious with his notes in several places.


 
Neuville was applying the pressure and the Belgian tied with Evans for the stage win to consolidate his second overall, even though the Hyundai driver complained of handling issues and needing to use the handbrake a couple of times to avert disaster. Tänak made some setting changes in his i20 to alleviate under steer and then spun shortly after the stage start, as Sordo stayed behind Ogier in fourth overall.
 


Eric Camilli claimed the stage win in WRC2 and moved ahead of Østberg at the top of the rankings.
 


The twisty 14.21km of the Riba-roja stage that had not been used in this format since 2012 and wound its way high above a dammed section of the Ebro River was next on the cards. Evans was again fastest and extended his lead over an under steering Neuville to 7.9 seconds.
 


Nil Solans survived a half-spin on his debut in a WRC car, as Sordo trailed third-placed Ogier on the midday return to Salou and Camilli held a 0.4-second lead over Østberg in WRC2. Lindholm, Kajentanowicz and López were still locked in a WRC3 duel and Armstrong led the Juniors.
 


Ogier shaved 4.1 seconds off his morning’s run on the second pass through Vilaplana but he still ceded a further three seconds to Evans. Neuville was fastest and reduced the Welshman’s lead to 7.6 seconds. Tänak left the road 3.8km into the stage and the Estonian’s demise lifted the two M-Sport Fords of Fourmaux and Greensmith into sixth and seventh overall.
 


Østberg complained of a potential minor brake issue but still set the quickest time in WRC2 to move 4.1 seconds ahead of Camilli.
 


Evans survived a heart-stopping moment at the start of SS5, but held his nerve to beat Ogier by 2.2 seconds. A flying Neuville won the stage by 7.9 seconds and moved 0.3 seconds ahead of Evans heading to the re-run of Riba-roja.
 


A puncture cost Østberg his hard-earned WRC2 advantage and Camilli duly moved 9.4 seconds ahead of Gryazin.
 


Evans finished the day 18.7 seconds ahead of Ogier, but Neuville had been the star of the afternoon and the fastest time gave the Belgian an overnight lead of 0.7 seconds.
 


Seven stages are planned for Saturday, including two loops of three gravel stages further north and west of Salou and a short special in the town to conclude the day’s action.
 



2021 Rally Spain – positions after SS6 (@19.00hrs):



1. Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Martin Wydaeghe (BEL) Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC        1hr 01min 26.6sec
2. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Scott Martin (GBR) Toyota Yaris WRC                                  1hr 01min 27.3sec
3. Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Toyota Yaris WRC                  1hr 01min 46.0sec
4. Dani Sordo (ESP)/Cándido Carrera (ESP) Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC                        1hr 01min 51.4sec
5. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN)/Jonne Halttunen (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC                  1hr 02min 04.6sec
6. Adrien Fourmaux (FRA)/Alexandre Coria (FRA) Ford Fiesta WRC                             1hr 02min 36.8sec
7. Gus Greensmith (GBR)/Chris Patterson (GBR) Ford Fiesta WRC                     1hr 02min 55.5sec
8. Oliver Solberg (NOR)/Craig Drew (GBR) Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC                             1hr 03min 22.2sec
9. Nil Solans (ESP)/Marc Marti (ESP) Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC                                             1hr 03min 57.1sec
10. Eric Camilli (FRA)/Maxime Vilmot (FRA) Citroën C3 (WRC2)                  1hr 05min 17.1sec
 




- Neil Perkins - photos Hyundai and Toyota
 
 

Permanent-URL: http://www.automobilsport.com/neuville-evans-spanish-battle-day1---229946.html

15.10.2021 / MaP

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