Neuville takes Corsica WRC lead as Meeke retires

2017-04-08 15:32:01

Saturday's mid-leg leaderboard might still show Kris Meeke as the current frontrunner of the Tour de Corse, but the Citroen driver was forced to retire after today's second stage with engine failure.

Having extended his lead over Sebastien Ogier in the opener, Meeke then dropped just over 15 seconds in the following stage and, with smoke billowing from under the hood, he and Paul Nagle were forced into a devastating retirement having led the rally from the start. Ogier also had a disappointing morning, dropping behind Thierry Neuville who now leads the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship for Hyundai.

Today's route is the longest of the event and while it still covers just two stages, both repeated, it kicked off with the daunting 48.71-kilometer run from La Porta to Valle di Rostino. Neuville set the pace and slashed the gap to second-placed Ogier to a mere six-tenths of a second in this single stage. Fastest again in the following stage saw the Belgian overhaul the reigning world champion and with Meeke's retirement he now tops the leaderboard, 8.2 seconds ahead of second-placed Ogier. The Frenchman is, unusually, at a loss to know how to go quicker and while he is comfortably ahead of Dani Sordo, could easily come under threat from the third-placed Spaniard if setup changes during the mid-leg service fail to deliver some confidence-boosting changes.

Sordo described the first test as "the worst stage in my life," finding it difficult to push but also not understanding why the times are not coming. Craig Breen  now Citroen's sole runner following the retirement of Stephane Lefebvre who hit a wall in the first stage had brake issues in the first stage and then had to drive the next one blind with no pace notes, the intercom between him and co-driver Scott Martin failing. He is 10.8 seconds adrift of Sordo, with whom he's been battling all weekend.

After this morning's loop, Jari-Matti Latvala finally has an idea of what changes to make to the setup of the Yaris WRC and the Finn will be looking to up the pace this afternoon. Hayden Paddon is sixth and now using the event as an extended test session, aiming to continue learning on this surface.

Aside from Lefebvre, Elfyn Evans was another to retire. After his hydraulic problems yesterday the Fiesta was back on form this morning, but the Welshman then went off the road and was unable to continue. Ott Tanak had mechanical problems but roadside repairs appear to have fixed the team's sister car, but the Estonian is still well outside the top 10. Juho Hanninen returned after crashing yesterday and the Finn has been impressive in the Yaris WRC, second- and third-fastest times some consolation.

Andreas Mikkelsen continues to head the FIA WRC 2 Championship contenders but the Norwegian came under fire from a charging Stephane Sarrazin in the first stage, the Frenchman in similar machinery but not registered in the category. Mikkelsen won the next stage and leads Teemu Suninen by more than a minute.

Raphael Astier leads the FIA WRC 3 Championship and in the Junior WRC series, Nil Solans heads Terry Folb as the crews head back into the same two stages this afternoon.

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