SS4: Novikov flies to shock stage win
Evgeny Novikov revelled in the muddy conditions of stage four and set the fastest time for himself and the DMACK tyres, as Mads Ostberg stormed into a 26-second lead on the RallyRACC-Rally de Espana.
Although the torrential rain in Spain has stopped, the stages remain very slippery from the morning loop. That didn't suit the Citroens, but proved profitable for Ford men Novikov, Jari-Matti Latvala and Ostberg.
Novikov was quickest by 1.1s over Latvala, bringing his DMACK-shod Ford up to sixth overall. The Russian said he knew the wet stages would be his best chance to impress.
"It was a quite tricky and slippery stage, and I feel comfortable in those conditions, so I tried to attack," said Novikov.
Latvala remains fifth, but was relieved to at least be matching the lead pace after losing so much time on the first loop.
"I'm honestly trying to push," said the Ford World Rally Team driver. "The first 15 kilometres of the stage was fine, but after that it was really muddy and it was difficult to get the rhythm."
Ostberg's third-fastest time allowed him to extend his outright lead over Ott Tanak, who took things more cautiously, to 26s.
Tanak might have lost second place to Mikko Hirvonen, had the Citroen man not taken a trip off the road that left him 4s shy of Tanak at the end of the stage.
"We lost six or seven seconds at the end," said Hirvonen. "We went off on a corner, straight off the road into the bushes and then we had to reverse."
There were no such dramas for Hirvonen's team-mate Sebastien Loeb, yet he was still 17.6s off the fastest stage time and is now 35.5s away from the lead in fourth.
"I'm just trying to do what I can in the mud. I'm really trying hard. We cannot match the Fords," Loeb insisted.
click: wrc.com/spain ss4
SS5: Loeb starts his comeback
Sebastien Loeb began his pursuit of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana leader Mads Ostberg with a storming stage win on the 44-kilometre Terra Alta test.
Loeb had been a muted presence so far in his final event as a full-time World Rally Championship contender, drifting to 35s off the lead in fourth place amid the horrible stage conditions that Friday initially delivered.
But as the weather improved a little by mid-afternoon, Loeb raised his game and delivered his and Citroen's first stage victory of the weekend.
That brought him up from fourth to second, and cut Ostberg's overall lead to 25s.
"I tried really hard. In this one it was a bit better," said Loeb. "I think in the previous stage it was getting muddy after the passes of the cars. Finally in this one I had a good drive."
Loeb's Citroen team-mate Mikko Hirvonen lacked the confidence to take those risks and was a full 45s slower. That dropped him behind Jari-Matti Latvala to fourth in the overall standings.
There was plenty of drama in the battle for the rest of the top 10 spots too.
Ott Tanak was similar concerns to Hirvonen and tumbled from second to fifth overall.
Stage four winner Evgeny Novikov slid into a ditch, forcing him to retire, while Chris Atkinson parked his MINI with differential damage.
Fellow MINI man Jarkko Nikara was also in trouble, stopping to change and puncture and then grappling with a jack issue.
That means he is now back in seventh place, behind World Rally Car debutant Hans Wiejs in Nasser Al-Attiyah's usual Citroen.
click: wrc.com/spain ss5
SS6: Hirvonen ends day with a stage win
Mikko Hirvonen brought a wild day of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana to an encouraging close by going fastest on the Salou superspecial.
The Citroen driver had dropped 45 seconds on the preceding Terra Alta stage, but kept himself in the podium hunting by winning the day-closing test.
"It's been quite up and down. The last long stage was really, really bad," Hirvonen admitted.
His team-mate Sebastien Loeb might have hoped to take more time out of rally leader Mads Ostberg on Salou, but was frustrated when it began raining during the four-minute gap before he took the start.
That meant he actually lost 2.1s to Mads Ostberg and 5.1s to Hirvonen, leaving his deficit to the Norwegian in the overall standings at 27.2s heading into Saturday.
Jari-Matti Latvala completes the current top three, 19.8s behind Loeb and 15.6s ahead of Hirvonen.
Having lost ground with his brake problems earlier in the afternoon, Ott Tanak was back on the pace on the superspecial, going second quickest and remaining within 8s of Hirvonen in fifth place.
At the end of a day of chaos, there were no more dramas on Salou, but there was one pre-stage, with Sebastien Ogier - who was poised to move into sixth overall - stopping his Volkswagen Motorsport Skoda Fabia on the road section after Terra Alta.
click: wrc.com/spain ss6
My day in the WRC. By John Powell
Trinidad and Tobago's John Powell is making his FIA World Rally Championship debut on RallyRACC-Rally de Espana this week. After a tough start to the mixed-surface event, Powell admitted it's not been easy in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
“Wow! I don’t know what to say,” said Powell at the PortAventura service park earlier today. “It looks easy on TV but it’s definitely not. It was very challenging. The first stage was horrific. I couldn’t find the wipers, I couldn’t find the heated windscreen and we went off slightly so I have to apologise to M-Sport for that.
“The second stage we got into it a little bit better but we just saw a lot of cars scattered all over the stage but the third stage was the most difficult stage of my life. I will not be embarrassed to tell you I had to stop for about 30 seconds. It felt like an eternity. I was just out of breath on the Tarmac stages. I just could not go any further.
“On the gravel I was okay but on the Tarmac I had to stop. It’s so demanding on you, physically and mentally. Also we went into a cloud of fog and we couldn’t see anything. I was disorientated and stopped for a few seconds, which seemed the safest thing to do to get my bearings before going again.
“I had to shake Sebastien Loeb’s hand a while ago. I told him this thing looks so easy on TV but to actually do it is really, really difficult. He said it was difficult for him as well but I don’t believe him somehow.
“I have absolutely no regrets about doing this. I just didn’t expect it to be what it is. It’s really demanding on you, it’s a different level and really is Cool Runnings comes to the WRC.”
Powell has not been able to contest this afternoon’s stages due to illness. He plans to rest before restarting under Rally 2 rules on Saturday morning.
click: wrc.com/john powell