WRC - Neuville edges Evans after day one in Catalunya | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile

WRC - Neuville edges Evans after day one in Catalunya


2021 RallyRACC Catalunya - Friday afternoon

2021 WRC - RallyRACC Catalunya - T. Neuville/M. Wydaeghe (DPPI Media / N. Katikis)

Thierry Neuville bounced back from a frustrating opening to demote early pacesetter Elfyn Evans and grab a slender lead in a pulsating opening to RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España on Friday.

Neuville wrestled handling problems with his Hyundai i20 throughout the morning’s three smooth asphalt speed tests in the Costa Daurada hills. Set-up changes at the mid-leg service transformed his confidence and he ended with a 0.7sec advantage over Evans.

Evans is the only driver who can deny Sébastien Ogier an eighth world crown in nine seasons and he ended 18.7sec clear of the Frenchman after six flowing tests near Salou.

Evans, driving a Toyota Yaris, dominated the morning. He won all three special stages, one shared with Neuville, to build a 7.9sec lead over the Belgian. A rejuvenated Neuville responded with a treble of his own when the stages were repeated this afternoon.

Evans was disappointed to concede the lead but relieved to survive a hefty slide into a kerbstone this afternoon.

Ogier, who will lift the title if he outscores Evans by seven points, could do nothing about the battling duo ahead. He lacked confidence in his Yaris and had his hands full in fending off home hero Dani Sordo, who ended 5.4sec behind in an i20.

Kalle Rovanperä initially struggled to understand the characteristics of Pirelli’s new P Zero hard compound tyres which were being used for the first time. Driving a Yaris, his pace improved significantly in the afternoon and he was fifth, 13.2sec adrift of Sordo.

M-Sport Ford Fiesta duo Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith were a distant sixth and seventh, but comfortably clear of Oliver Solberg’s i20 in eighth.

World Rally Car debutant Nil Solans was ninth, despite losing time with a misted windscreen when his drinks bag leaked, and FIA WRC2 pacesetter Eric Camilli completed the leaderboard in his Sports & You-entered Citroën C3. Behind Camilli, Emil Lindholm leads the FIA WRC3 class.

It was a disastrous morning for Takamoto Katsuta who slammed his Yaris into a roadside barrier in the opening stage after misunderstanding a pace note. He limped to the finish with heavy damage to the front left suspension and retired.

Also on the sidelines was Ott Tänak, who retired after damaging his i20’s rear suspension when he went off the road in the afternoon’s opening test when lying sixth.

Saturday’s leg is the longest of the event, containing 117.54km of competition across seven stages. Three tests are driven twice either side of service before the day closes with a spectacular seafront stage in Salou.

The provisional results can be consulted here.