SS9: Tanti – Mataderos 1, 13.92km
Saturday’s opener starts in the middle of Tanti on asphalt before threading out of town and joining the Los Gigantes mountain road. Wide tracks and sweeping uphill hairpins, set against stunning mountain scenery, lead through El Durazno and onwards to the finish in Mataderos.
SS10: Mataderos – Cuchilla Nevada 1, 22.67km
The Los Gigantes mountains have previously hosted the Dakar Rally and feature barren and remote rocky territory. The test peaks at 1912 metres after 19.05km of climbing from the start on bumpy, sandy and twisty roads. It mixes wide and fast sections with tighter parts and has been extended by 6.65km at the start from last year.
Neuville was quickest out of the blocks in his Hyundai i20, winning the opening speed test from Tanti to Mataderos by 0.4sec from the Estonian and stretching his advantage to 13.8sec.
Tänak struck back in the following Mataderos – Cuchilla Nevada special stage. He was quickest by 2.5sec in his Toyota Yaris from Neuville, trimming the deficit to 11.3sec having relegated Sébastien Ogier to third in the opening test.
Neuville shook his head as he studied the times at Cuchilla Nevada. “I tried. I’m on the maximum but we know these kind of fast stages are made for Toyota. They have more aero and carry more speed,” he said.
The water and mud of yesterday was gone, replaced by blue skies and bright sunshine. The roads were drier, but still far from easy. “Conditions are very inconsistent and I’m not really pushing to the limit yet,” explained Tänak.
Ogier was fifth in both stages to trail Tänak by 5.6sec. He had a scare in this morning’s service when his Citroën team noticed a split cooling pipe on the C3’s brakes. Repairs were made just in time to send the Frenchman out on time without penalty.
Kris Meeke was third in both tests in his Yaris to remain fourth, 12.4sec clear of Andreas Mikkelsen’s i20.
Elfyn Evans’ day came to an abrupt end when the Welshman rolled his Ford Fiesta heavily in the final third of Mataderos – Cuchilla Nevada. He and co-driver Scott Martin were unhurt but their car came to rest below the road with the sump guard ripped from the chassis.
His demise promoted Dani Sordo to sixth. The Spaniard dropped a handful of seconds in Tanti when his i20’s engine cut out several times but the problem cleared itself for the following test.