Wales Rally GB, saturday: Tänak tightens his grip
Neuville demoted Ogier and Meeke to claim second
SS11: Evans wins Saturday opener
Home hero Elfyn Evans set a stunning pace to win Saturday morning’s opening speed test at Wales Rally GB.
Evans, who grew up a handful of kilometres from the 25.86km Dyfi test, delighted his fans by charging to quickest time in his Ford Fiesta at the start of a day in which the M-Sport Ford driver will hope to regain time lost yesterday.
“We just have to focus stage by stage and do the best we can on each one. The grip was a bit changeable in here, unlike yesterday where you could read the grip a little bit more. It all looks the same this morning but it’s actually quite changeable,” explained Evans.
He remained eighth but closed to within 1.3sec of team-mate Teemu Suninen, who was more than 13sec slower after a lacklustre start to the day.
Rally leader Ott Tänak was second fastest, 1.9sec slower than Evans, to extend his advantage to 5.8sec over Sébastien Ogier. “Generally the grip was quite OK. We couldn’t go to the limit but the car feels good,” said the Toyota Yaris driver.
Ogier believed he was not as ‘sharp’ as he would have liked in his Citroën C3 – possibly something to do with the 05.40 restart! However, he stretched the gap over former leader Kris Meeke to 2.8sec as the Ulsterman slipped into the clutches of Thierry Neuville.
“I probably didn’t explore the grip enough, there was more of it than I expected. We have to try everything, Thierry is driving a Hyundai and we want to finish in front so we have work to do,” said Meeke, who was only seventh fastest.
Meeke and Neuville, who was third in the stage, were tied for third overall although the Belgian was not totally happy with his performance in his Hyundai i20.
“I struggled in the beginning and I was too careful in the first part of the stage before I got the feeling. It was a long day yesterday and a short night, but I should have done better,” he said.
SS12-13: Ott claws out vital seconds
Ott Tänak grasped a handful of seconds from his Wales Rally GB rivals on Saturday morning to increase his lead over WRC title rival Sébastien Ogier to 7.0sec.
While the Estonian was made to work hard for every tenth of a second through the muddy mid-Wales forests, home hero Elfyn Evans was in dominant form to claim a clean sweep of speed test wins.
Tänak was second fastest in Dyfi and Myherin before ending the loop with fifth in Sweet Lamb Hafren to stretch his overnight advantage of 3.4sec.
Ogier held off Thierry Neuville, the third driver in the 2019 title tussle. The Citroën C3 pilot headed for the mid-leg tyre fitting zone in Newtown with a 2.2sec advantage over the Belgian despite a ragged drive in Sweet Lamb Hafren.
“We had a big moment in the middle of the stage where I didn’t understand a note from Julien (co-driver Ingrassia) and we hit a bank. I lost concentration just before because we had a big impact and I thought we had a broken damper. The car is OK but it was a strange impact,” said Ogier.
Despite a minor mistake in front of huge crowds in the Sweet Lamb bowl, Neuville eased clear of Kris Meeke’s Yaris. The gap was up to 4.4sec as the Ulsterman could not reproduce the pace that allowed him to lead the rally throughout Friday.
“We’re just a fraction away this morning and it’s slipping away. The car feels a bit different, a bit more lazy, but unfortunately we have no service today so we can’t do anything,” said Meeke.
Andreas Mikkelsen retained fifth as both Hyundai i20 team-mate Craig Breen and Teemu Suninen hit trouble.
Breen dropped almost five minutes after a spectacular roll in Myherin and conceded more seconds in Sweet Lamb Hafren as he battled for visibility with a cracked windscreen. The Irishman admitted an over optimistic pace note was to blame.
Suninen dropped a minute in the final test after sliding off the road early in the stage and puncturing his Ford Fiesta’s rear left tyre.
Evans (below) swept by both into sixth, closing to within 4.6sec of Mikkelsen after winning all three stages. Having restarted more than 48sec behind Meeke, the Welshman arrived at Newtown just 24sec adrift.
Pontus Tidemand was eighth in another Fiesta, ahead of Breen and WRC 2 Pro leader Kalle Rovanperä. The Finn regained the lead of the support category after Jan Kopecký stopped to change a puncture on his Skoda Fabia in Myherin.
After SS17: Tänak tightens his grip
Ott Tänak delivered a determined Super Saturday drive to stretch his lead at Wales Rally GB over FIA World Rally Championship title rivals Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier.
The tussle for victory through the wet, muddy and foggy mid-Wales forests echoed the battle for the world crown between the trio, and Tänak had to work hard to gain vital seconds that extended his lead to 11.0sec with Sunday’s short finale remaining.
It was the first time in three days that the rally lead reached double figures – a far from comfortable margin on greasy gravel tracks where grip levels changed constantly and with more rain forecast for the final day.
The championship leader only won one of the seven speed tests covering 151.24km, almost half the rally’s total competitive distance. But his consistency allowed him to increase his overnight 3.4sec advantage as Neuville emerged as his main challenger in second.
The Estonian’s only problem came when the rear bumper was torn from his Toyota Yaris this afternoon, making it almost impossible for Tänak to hear co-driver Martin Järveoja’s pace notes.
Neuville climbed from fourth in his Hyundai i20, the Belgian winning two tests and conceding only 2.6sec to Tänak during the day.
Sébastien Ogier retained second in his Citroën C3 this morning, despite hitting a bank after a pace note mix up. The Frenchman could not fend off Neuville as the road surface became more polished and ended 6.3sec further back in third.
Kris Meeke, who led for virtually all of Friday, started 3.6sec off the lead but could not reproduce the same speed on faster and wider roads in his Yaris. He ended 26.5sec behind team-mate Tänak, but in a vital points-paying position for Toyota Gazoo Racing’s manufacturers’ title challenge.
Andreas Mikkelsen won a stage en route to retaining fifth in his i20. The Norwegian came under fierce pressure from Elfyn Evans who won all three morning stages in his Ford Fiesta. The Welshman was less dominant this afternoon but was only 4.5sec adrift tonight.
Team-mate Teemu Suninen was more than two minutes further back after losing time when he crashed off the road and punctured a tyre. Losing his Fiesta’s front splitter later cost aerodynamic downforce and more time.
Pontus Tidemand, Craig Breen and WRC 2 Pro leader Kalle Rovanperä completed the leaderboard.
Breen dropped five minutes after a spectacular roll this morning, the Irishman blaming an over optimistic pace note. He struggled through the rest of the day with a cracked windscreen hampering visibility.
Sunday’s finale returns to north Wales. Two loops of two forest stages sandwich an asphalt test around the rocky Great Orme headland on the edge of host town Llandudno. It totals 38.42km and the final Wolf Power Stage offers bonus points to the fastest five drivers.
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