The Briton won just one of the nine speed tests, most on dirt roads in the mountains near León, but it was a decisive victory. While Meeke carried out a planned attack to perfection, Ogier spun and a deficit of just over 20sec became almost twice that.
The duo traded seconds through the opening four special stages before Meeke pounced in his Citroën C3. Ogier promised this morning it would not be an ‘all or nothing’ day, and after pirouetting at a hairpin bend, he signalled his challenge was over.
“It has been a perfect weekend so far. That was going to be the defining loop of the rally. I had to make it stick on this loop and it worked,” said Meeke, who gambled with hard compound Michelin tyres despite the threat of rain. Fortunately for him it stayed dry.
Ogier won two tests in his Ford Fiesta and ended 39.6sec clear of Thierry Neuville, who also won a stage. The misfire which slowed Neuville’s Hyundai i20 Coupe last night, along with team-mates Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo, was traced to a blocked fuel filter and all three cars ran cleanly today.
Neuville regretted opting for soft tyres this afternoon when forecast rain failed to arrive, but with a large gap in front and behind, an error-free day kept him on course for strong points.
Ott Tänak was fourth in a Fiesta. The Estonian struggled for confidence in his car’s set-up this morning but headed a frustrated Hayden Paddon. The Kiwi punctured after hitting a rock and experimented with new settings in a bid to find his pace.
Jari-Matti Latvala overhauled Toyota Yaris team-mate Juho Hänninen for sixth in the penultimate stage. Latvala overcame morning brake problems and punctured after hitting the same rock as Paddon.
Just finishing was a victory for Hänninen. Struck down by sickness, he persevered and by the day’s end his health was improving.