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WRC - Neuville ahead after change to asphalt in Spain

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Rally de España – Saturday morning

2019 WRC - Rally Spain - T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul

Thierry Neuville took the lead from his teammate Sébastien Loeb as Rally de España made the switch from gravel to asphalt on Saturday morning. Dani Sordo is in third place as Meeke crashed out, completing an all-Hyundai Top three.

After the cars were converted into asphalt specification during a longer than usual service on Friday night, the crews faced a loop of three stages this morning on Catalonia’s smooth and fast sealed surface roads.

A charging Neuville, who had previously led briefly on Friday morning, won the first speed test of the day, SS7, to move ahead of Loeb, the overnight leader. The Belgian was fastest again in SS8 and despite a braking issue in SS9, he increased his advantage at the top to 11.4 seconds, hence keeping his hopes of winning the driver’s title alive.

2018 Rally de España winner Loeb is second, 5.4s ahead of Sordo, who initially lost third place in the morning’s first stage after a second-quickest time from Toyota’s Kris Meeke.

But Meeke then crashed out at the start of SS8, hitting a barrier with his Yaris WRC and ripping off the rear-right wheel. This moved the Spanish favourite back to third and Toyota’s Ott Tänak to fourth.

Tänak had a steady start to the day but still took a stage win in SS9, coming closer to a maiden World Champion title.

Jari-Matti Latvala is fifth ahead of M-Sport Ford’s Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen, while Sébastien Ogier is up to eighth, following the hydraulic issues he suffered on Friday on his C3 WRC. Just behind Ogier, Mads Østberg and Eric Camilli round out the overall top 10 in their Citroën machinery and lead FIA WRC 2 Pro and WRC 2 respectively.

Østberg leads the Škodas of 2019 WRC 2 Pro champion Kalle Rovanperä and his teammate Jan Kopecky. In WRC 2, Pierre-Louis Loubet is second in front of Kajetan Kajetanowitz.

Ninth overnight, Toyota’s protégé Takamoto Katsuta stopped at the start of the day’s first stage as he struggled to select gears in his Toyota, but he was able to continue after losing 17 minutes.