SS1: Latvala takes early lead
Jari-Matti Latvala began his final rally with Ford in style by setting the pace on the wet first stage of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana.
In increasingly damp conditions, Latvala ran hard tyres on the front and softs on the rear as he set a time of 4m40.5s.
That was half a second faster than an impressed Sebastien Loeb, who ran the more appropriate soft tyres all round and had plenty of respect for Latvala's time.
Loeb's Citroen team-mate Mikko Hirvonen drove tentatively after an early scare, but was still within 1.7s of the lead.
Petter Solberg was fourth quickest, while just one tenth of a second covered Ott Tanak, Thierry Neuville and Mads Ostberg in fifth through seventh places. Ostberg coped well with running four hard tyres.
Jarkko Nikara upstaged Prodrive MINI team-mate Dani Sordo on their first stage together, pipping the Spaniard - who made a small mistake - by 1.2s.
Martin Prokop completes the early top 10 despite stalling at the stage start.
Sardinia runner-up Evgeny Novikov began his rally with a muted 13th fastest, while Citroen debutant Hans Weijs had a quick spin.
click: wrc.com/spain ss1
SS2: Tanak into lead amid high drama
Ott Tanak emerged in a sensational RallyRACC-Rally de Espana lead as increasingly heavy rain hampered the usual frontrunners on stage two, Pesells.
The young Estonian is just one tenth of a second ahead of Mads Ostberg, while Mikko Hirvonen, Sebastien Loeb and Jari-Matti Latvala have fallen to third, fourth and fifth.
They fared better than Petter Solberg and Thierry Neuville, both of whom damaged their cars and had to stop.
Tanak was none too impressed with his pace when he completed the stage, but with the weather getting ever worse, those early in the running order had a slightly less treacherous conditions than the big names.
The M-Sport Ford driver and Adapta Ford's Ostberg set identical times, and found themselves at the head of the order - despite Ostberg struggling with unsuitable hard tyres.
Hirvonen is now 14.4s behind Tanak and Ostberg in the leading Citroen.
"There's so much standing water that sometimes even in a straight line you have a massive slide," Hirvonen reported.
His team-mate Loeb had even worse weather to cope with and is 7s further back.
"I think we had the right tyre choice for the morning, but the road position is really bad," said Loeb, who chose what should have been the prime spot in 14th on the road after heading qualifying.
"We had heavy rain, big ruts and a lot of water. I cannot drive on the line at all."
Latvala was further compromised by a spin, leaving him another 7s down on Loeb.
The Finn reported that both his Ford team-mate Petter Solberg and Citroen Junior driver Thierry Neuville appeared to have hit a rock and damaged their cars. Both seem to be out of Friday's action already.
Dani Sordo and Jarkko Nikara are sixth and eighth in the Prodrive MINIs, but Nikara is set to gain a position immediately as seventh-placed Martin Prokop crashed his Ford as he crossed the stage two flying finish.
click: wrc.com/spain ss2
SS3: Ostberg edges ahead
Mads Ostberg inched ahead of Ott Tanak in their battle for the RallyRACC-Rally de Espana lead at the end of the mammoth 44-kilometre Terra Alta stage.
The two satellite Ford drivers stayed clear of their factory competition even as weather conditions improved slightly on the final stage of the morning loop.
Ostberg spun on the stage, but recovered his composure in time to pull 2.7s clear of Tanak at the front of the field.
The works Citroens started stretching their legs again as the rain eased, but despite Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen being first and second fastest on the lengthy stage, they did not take a great deal out of Ostberg and Tanak's advantage.
Hirvonen is 13s off the lead, and 6s ahead of Loeb.
The Citroens fared much better than the remaining factory Ford. Jari-Matti Latvala decided not to receive rivals' split times and was too cautious. He lost a lot of time and is now nearly one minute from the lead.
Jarkko Nikara's superb debut for the Prodrive MINI team continued as he moved to within 14s of Latvala in sixth place, while keeping Evgeny Novikov's Autotek Ford five seconds behind.
Nikara is now Prodrive's hope for a good result, as his team-mate Dani Sordo got stuck off the road on stage three.
click: wrc.com/spain ss3
Friday midday wrap:
Ford's underdogs starred on a rain-lashed opening morning of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana, with Mads Ostberg holding a narrow lead over Ott Tanak after the first loop.
Increasingly heavy rain caused a litany of incidents and proved particularly troublesome to the regular rally winners, most of whom were running late in the start order and therefore hit the worst of the stage conditions on the sodden stage two in particular.
While the factory Citroens and Fords floundered, M-Sport Ford man Tanak and his Adapta counterpart Ostberg burst to the front.
Tanak held a tiny 0.1s lead after stage two, with Ostberg then edging into a 2.7s advantage by the end of stage three.
Neither had a totally straightforward morning either: Tanak overshot a braking point and slid off briefly on stage one, and Ostberg had a spin on stage three, and coped with running unsuitable hard tyres throughout the loop.
Citroen managed to salvage third and fourth from the morning, and by stage three its works cars were setting the pace again.
Mikko Hirvonen and Sebastien Loeb are currently 13s and 19s respectively behind Ostberg and poised for a comeback charge.
But the factory Ford team's hopes of winning its final rally in its current incarnation look remote already.
Jari-Matti Latvala led after stage one, then struggled a lot with the slippery conditions and took things too carefully on stage three.
He is now 55s off the lead, but still in better shape than team-mate Petter Solberg, who hit a rock on stage two and had to retire.
Ironically the same obstacle was Solberg's undoing in Spain in 2011 - and this year it also caught out Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen.
....Chris Atkinson has had a troubled morning in eighth, with Citroen newcomer Hans Weijs ninth and SWRC leader Craig Breen 10th. Breen's title rival PG Andersson led the class until losing a minute with a differential issue.
Yeray Lemes is just 2s ahead of Marcos Ligato in a tight PWRC battle.
click: wrc.com/fri midday wrap