Neuville-Wydaeghe (Hyundai) edges clear after nine stages


Belgium's Thierry Neuville delivered another morning master class at Rally Spain to win each of the three asphalt stages and extend his lead over Welshman Elfyn Evans to nine seconds.

Evans's team-mate and WRC title rival Sébastien Ogier was coming under increasing pressure from local hero Dani Sordo and a mere 0.2 seconds separated the pair in the battle for third place on the return to Salou for a lunchtime service.

Finland's Kalle Rovanperä maintained a comfortable fifth, Adrien Fourmaux was sixth and both Oliver Solberg and Nil Solans benefitted from a time-consuming puncture for Gus Greensmith to move up to seventh and eighth.

Frenchman Eric Camilli continued to lead in WRC2 and held 10th overall.

Just seven-tenths of a second separated Neuville and Evans at the start of the 14.08km of the Savallà stage. Takamoto Katsuta was given the task of opening proceedings, but chassis damage had forced Hyundai to withdraw Ott Tänak's damaged i20 after his accident on SS4.

Solans set the early target time of 7min 30.1sec but Tänak's 2019 stage record of 7min 25.2sec was eclipsed by Rovanperä's run of 7min 25.0sec, despite damp sections and tricky fog patches.

Evans eclipsed the Finn (7min 24.2sec) but Neuville claimed the stage record with a 7min 22.5sec and extended his lead to 2.4 seconds.

Camilli increased his WRC2 lead over Gryazin to 12.6 seconds but a five-minute stoppage for Armstrong dropped the Briton from first to fifth in the Junior category and handed the advantage to Sami Pajari.

A sprint through the 19.17km Querol-Les Pobles stage followed. Fourmaux set a stunning target of 10min 31.3sec and the time was only surpassed by rally leader Neuville. The Belgian was able to extend his advantage over Evans to 6.7 seconds.

Camilli and Lindholm continued to lead in WRC2 and WRC3 and Pajari's chance of winning the Junior category gathered momentum when Martins Sesks stopped in the special.

El Montmell (24.40km) was the longest stage of the rally and it was one to forget for Greensmith. A rear-left puncture cost the Briton over a minute and he slipped two places to ninth behind Solberg and Solans.

Rovanperä survived a huge moment in the middle of the stage, as a flying Sordo reduced Ogier's grip on third to just 0.2 seconds. Despite still complaining of under steering issues on his i20, another fastest time enabled Neuville to move nine seconds ahead of Evans on the return to Salou for service.