BARCELONA (Reuters) – Toyota’s title contender Ott Tanak led the Rally of Spain after the first full day’s action on Friday with Hyundai’s championship leader Thierry Neuville languishing in ninth place.
Neuville had the disadvantage of running first on the rough gravel roads to the southwest of Barcelona, acting as a sweeper for those behind, but will hope to make progress on Saturday when the rally switches to smooth asphalt.
He ended the day 59.7 seconds behind Tanak.
The Belgian leads M-Sport Ford’s reigning world champion Sebastien Ogier by seven points going into the penultimate round with Estonian Tanak third and a further 14 behind in a tight three-way battle.
Tanak will start Saturday with a 26.8 second advantage over Hyundai’s local hope Dani Sordo, with Britain’s Elfyn Evans third for M-Sport Ford.
“It was a tricky day. At the beginning of the afternoon the car was really good, but later I started to struggle, I don’t know why,” said Tanak.
“I tried to do everything I could to stay on the road, I couldn’t do much more.”
Nine-times world champion Sebastien Loeb was in fourth place in his third and final appearance of the 2018 campaign with Citroen.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Pritha Sarkar)