(Reuters) – Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville led Rally Spain after Friday’s opening leg of the penultimate round of the season with Toyota’s title rivals Elfyn Evans and Sebastien Ogier second and third respectively.
Ogier will clinch his eighth championship in nine seasons if he scores six points more than his Welsh team mate on the fast asphalt roads around the resort of Salou, to the south of Barcelona.
Evans, who won Friday’s three morning stages, is the only driver who can deny the Frenchman the title. Ogier started the weekend 24 points clear with a maximum 30 to be won after Sunday.
Neuville came through strongly in the afternoon, however, to win the second loop of three stages.
The Belgian led Evans, who survived a scary moment on stage five, by 0.7 of a second after the sixth Riba-Roja 2 stage with Ogier a further 18.7 seconds adrift.
Hyundai’s Ott Tanak had already crashed out on stage four after hitting a tree stump while Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta retired with heavy suspension damage after slamming into a roadside barrier.
A further seven stages follow on Saturday.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Christian Radnedge)