For the first time ever, Inside Lane is bringing you live daily updates on location at the latest round of the World Rally Championship, meaning you won’t miss a second of the action as it unfolds from stage to stage. After a breathless Rally France, where new world champion Sébastien Ogier finally collected his crown on home turf, the action moves south to the Iberian peninsula for the penultimate round of the season – Rally de España 2013. The driver’s championship race may have already been settled, but the battle for the constructor’s championship remains unresolved and, more importantly, seats are now up for grabs for next season. This should guarantee more intrigue and drama on the gravel and asphalt of Cataluña.
After the pomp and pageantry of the much awaited ceremonial start at Barcelona Cathedral, the cars headed south to rendezvous with their teams at the main hub of the Rally, once again located in the charming seaside town of Salou. The Port Aventura Service Park, the teams’ nerve centre for the weekend, was bustling with activity with fans from all over the world flocking to catch a glimpse of their heroes. One man came in for particular attention from the masses, home favourite Dani Sordo, fresh on the back of a major upturn in form after his maiden rally victory earlier this year in Germany. The local contingent will be hoping that he can take inspiration from his recent hot streak and grab a second win in Citroën colours.
However, despite Spanish optimism, there was a very familiar French look to the top of the leader board after Friday night’s stages. Volkswagen’s Ogier was quickest in all three tests, holding an 8.8 second lead from teammate Jari-Matti Latvala after stage 3. Whilst others were left groping for grip in the darkness, the Frenchman seemed to revel in the nocturnal conditions and steered clear of errors to secure the lead heading in to day 2. To the delight of the home crowd, Sordo provided the closest threat, taking second in both opening stages and looking on course to follow Ogier through again on the third, only to back off and strategically concede the place to Latvala. The Spaniard had voiced his concern before the event that drivers would likely drop time on purpose so as to gain a better road position on Saturday and Sunday’s gravel stages and sure enough he was the first to take advantage. Although now 12.6 seconds behind the leader, he should have a clearer run tomorrow with both Polo’s sweeping the road ahead of him. Whether deliberately giving time away to the world champion was a wise choice remains to be seen!
Latvala was very pleased with his night’s work for second overall, however the same cannot be said for Thierry Neuville, whose own high standards seem to have deserted him as he struggled for any kind of rhythm in the gloom. He looked uncomfortable throughout, reporting understeer problems in the Fiesta RS, and a change of settings between stages did nothing improved matters. With an impressively large army of Belgian fans making the trip, the M-Sport man will be praying he can make a considerable dent in the 19.1 second gap to the leader on Saturday.
Another lethargic start for Citroën’s Mikko Hirvonen sees him way back in fifth and unlikely to make up the 27 second deficit to Ogier in a hurry. He may even struggle to retain his top five spot, with Andreas Mikkelson and Evgeny Novikov less than a second behind for VW and M-Sport respectively. Elsewhere, Mads Ostberg already cuts a dejected figure, trailing the top seven by nearly 40 seconds after just three legs. He even suffered the ignominy of being beaten by his new M-Sport team mate and WRC rookie Hayden Paddon on stage 2. The New Zealand youngster currently sits in ninth.
Meanwhile, this could be a momentous weekend for Robert Kobica, who appears to be closing in on the WRC2 title in his maiden season. Like Ogier, the Pole dominated his class, picking up a hat-trick of wins on day 1 to end stage 3 over 50 seconds ahead of his nearest rival. The ex-F1 man needs only a second place finish to be sure of the title heading in to the last round in GB, where he will link up with the Citroën WRC team.
On Saturday, the drivers will head in to the hills for gravel stages 4-8 before returning to Salou for the climax of the weekend, the much anticipated stage 9, which will run along the packed promenade to the finish line in the town centre itself.