Wales Rally GB, friday: Tänak grabs late lead
Daylong leader Meeke is relegated to third
SS2-3: Meeke extends GB lead
Kris Meeke extended his overnight Wales Rally GB lead on Friday morning after a powerful run through the opening two wet and muddy forest speed tests.
The Ulsterman, who led after Thursday night’s curtain-raiser at Oulton Park motor racing circuit, was second quickest through both the 11.65km Elsi and the 16.19km Penmachno special stages in his Toyota Yaris to widen his advantage to 9.2sec.
Although the tail end of Hurricane Lorenzo failed to bring the extreme weather predicted overnight, steady rain made the gravel tracks in the Snowdonia mountains of north Wales extremely slippery.
Home hero Elfyn Evans was quickest out of the blocks in Elsi in his Ford Fiesta, stopping the clocks 0.5sec up on Meeke. Ott Tänak came to the fore in Penmachno, the championship leader fastest by 1.6sec from his consistent team-mate.
World champion Sébastien Ogier was Meeke’s closest rival in the overall standings, the Frenchman sixth in Elsi and third in Penmachno. He had 0.3sec in hand over Tänak, who quickly recovered from last night’s time loss when he stalled his Yaris.
Evans’ promising start received a setback when he slid wide on a fast right corner in Penmachno. The Welshman touched a bank and left the stage finish to check suspected rear left suspension damage, having dropped almost 45sec.
Behind the top three, the next six drivers were blanketed by 7.4sec. Thierry Neuville was fourth in his Hyundai i20, 3.2sec clear of team-mate Craig Breen, with Jari-Matti Latvala and Teemu Suninen hot on their heels in sixth and seventh.
Latvala had a lucky escape in Elsi when the Finn slide wide, leaving the rear of his Yaris hanging over a ditch.
SS4-5: Meeke fends off closing pack
Britain’s Kris Meeke led an exciting Wales Rally GB after Friday morning’s rain-soaked opening loop of speed tests.
The Toyota Yaris driver failed to win any of the four muddy and slippery gravel road special stages, but consistent performances kept him 6.0sec clear of Thierry Neuville as competitors returned to the sanctuary of the Llandudno service park.
Less than 10sec covered the top six, but Meeke retained his advantage despite a spin in Dyfnant when he missed a braking point and overshot a hairpin in a slippery section which trapped several others.
“It was tricky for everyone in the challenging conditions,” he said. “The stages were soaking wet and we’re glad to be here. Let’s see how the conditions develop in the afternoon. It looks like the rain may have passed but it’s still going to be soaking wet and full of mud.”
Neuville climbed from fourth to second in his Hyundai i20 in the morning’s closing Aberhirnant stage, preventing a clean sweep of the top three places for Toyota Gazoo Racing.
Joint fastest time for Jari-Matti Latvala in Aberhirnant promoted the Finn to third, despite sliding into a ditch in Dyfnant and surviving a big moment in the following test.
He was 0.2sec behind Neuville and 0.3sec ahead of championship leader Ott Tänak, who yielded a few seconds after earlier climbing to second when quickest in Dyfnant.
The Estonian made set-up changes to his Yaris throughout the morning and planned more improvements during service. Sébastien Ogier was just 2.3sec behind him in fifth after flirting with a ditch in Aberhirnant, the Frenchman also coping with a cracked windscreen in his Citroën C3.
Craig Breen was a tenth ahead of Latvala before Aberhirnant but the test was halted before he started when spectators refused to obey marshals’ safety instructions. The Irishman received a notional time which keeps him firmly in contention, 9.8sec off the lead in sixth.
Esapekka Lappi and Andreas Mikkelsen, in an i20, were seventh and eighth, Lappi feeling more comfortable after softening his C3’s suspension. They headed Teemu Suninen, who dropped away from the top six after sliding his Fiesta off the road in Dyfnant and having to reverse.
Elfyn Evans was back in the top 10 after making repairs to his Fiesta’s damaged suspension after swiping a bank earlier. The Welshman was joint fastest in Aberhirnant but almost 45sec adrift of Meeke.
SS6-7-8: Ogier on the prowl
Sébastien Ogier hunted down Wales Rally GB leader Kris Meeke on Friday afternoon to slash the Briton’s lead to just 1.5sec with two speed tests remaining in today’s opening leg.
The Frenchman was fifth at the midpoint service in Llandudno after a rain-soaked morning, but as the sun came out this afternoon, so his pace moved up a level.
He won the repeat of both the Elsi and Penmachno tests in his Citroën C3 before regaining more time on the Ulsterman in the short Slate Mountain test.
“I’m happy but it is more difficult than this morning. The grip is higher but there are some ruts and bumps, so it’s not easy. It’s more rough than I expected and we had quite a few impacts so I wasn’t completely comfortable,” Ogier explained.
Meeke was third in Elsi and fourth in Penmachno in his Toyota Yaris.
Ogier’s charge carried him passed Thierry Neuville, who was 4.2sec off the lead in third. Neuville suffered a rear puncture on his Hyundai i20 in Elsi, but was still second fastest before setting the benchmark time in Slate Mountain.
“I can’t really attack. I have to be very clean to go fast and in these conditions you need to push very hard. We’re trying to find grip we’re missing, but on the other hand I need some protection,” explained the Belgian.
Championship leader Ott Tänak held fourth in his Yaris, the Estonian one of several drivers to complain about visibility as windscreens struggled to cope with a combination of mud and bright sunshine. He was 6.9sec off the lead.
Jari-Matti Latvala dropped from third to fifth in Elsi after a rear left puncture on his Yaris. Worse was to follow in Penmachno when the Finn hit the same bank Elfyn Evans clipped in this morning’s first pass and rolled heavily, his car coming to rest on its side against a tree.
Both the Finn and co-driver Miikka Anttila escaped unhurt but the stage was halted as organisers sent in rescue crews and all drivers from Evans onwards will be awarded notional times for the test.
Fellow countryman Esapekka Lappi was a casualty in Elsi. He retired from seventh after plunging his Citroën C3 down a bank shortly after the start and there was no chance of regaining the road.
After SS10: Tänak grabs late lead
Ott Tänak snatched the lead of Wales Rally GB from team-mate Kris Meeke in the closing kilometres of Friday’s second leg after a thrilling fight in typically unpredictable weather.
The FIA World Rally Championship leader relegated his Toyota Yaris colleague in the darkness of the final Aberhirnant speed test to carry a 3.4sec advantage into Saturday’s marathon leg.
Meeke took the lead in last night’s curtain-raising test. Despite failing to win any of today’s nine gravel road special stages in north and mid-Wales, the Ulsterman fended off a string of challengers until the last test. His only issue was a spin after overshooting a hairpin.
He was also overhauled by world champion Sébastien Ogier, Tänak’s closest challenger in the exciting battle for the 2019 world title, but the leading trio are blanketed by only 3.6sec.
Tänak was fortunate to remain in contention after a problem with his auxiliary lights in the penultimate test as dusk was turning to full darkness.
“It was quite stressful in there,” he said at the finish of the last test. “In the previous stage we lost the lights and the wires were damaged so we had a lot of work to do on the liaison section before the final one. Luckily we had some lights in there,” said the Estonian, who won both tests.
Although the tail end of Hurricane Lorenzo failed to bring the extreme weather predicted, steady rain made the gravel tracks in the Snowdonia mountains extremely slippery and grip was at a premium all morning.
As the sun broke through this afternoon, Ogier upped the pace in his Citroën C3, climbing from fifth to pose an ominous presence behind Tänak in his quest for a fifth GB win in six years.
Thierry Neuville, the third driver in the title battle, ended fourth in his Hyundai i20, 4.8sec behind Meeke. The Belgian had no major problems but a tyre selection mix-up at mid-leg service cost valuable seconds this afternoon.
Team-mates Andreas Mikkelsen and Craig Breen completed the top six, half a minute off the lead.
Ford Fiesta team-mates Teemu Suninen, Elfyn Evans and Pontus Tidemand were seventh, eighth and ninth. Suninen lost time in a ditch while Evans dropped almost 45sec this morning after swiping a bank and damaging his car’s rear suspension.
WRC 2 Pro leader Jan Kopecký completed a top 10 that was missing Jari-Matti Latvala and Esapekka Lappi following crashes.
Latvala ran as high as third before rolling his Yaris heavily and he will not restart tomorrow. Lappi slid his C3 into a ditch and could not regain the track.
Tomorrow’s Super Saturday comprises almost half the rally’s competitive distance. Six mid-Wales stages are followed by a closing test along Colwyn Bay promenade. Reliability is key, with no service after competitors depart Llandudno at 05.40 until they return at almost 20.00.
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