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 11.0 sec 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 151.24 km, almost half the rally’s total competitive distance, but his consistency allowed him to increase his overnight 3.4 sec 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 2.6 sec 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 6.3 sec further back in third.
Kris Meeke, who led for virtually all of Friday, started 3.6 sec off the lead but couldn’t reproduce the same speed on faster and wider roads in his Yaris. He ended 26.5 sec 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 4.5 sec adrift tonight.
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 38.42 km and the final Wolf Power Stage offers bonus points to the fastest five drivers.
Leading positions after Saturday:
1. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Toyota Yaris 2hr 42min 02.7 sec
2. T Neuville / N Gilsoul BEL Hyundai i20 +11.0 sec
3. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Citroën C3 +17.3 sec
4. K Meeke / S Marshall GBR Toyota Yaris +26.5 sec
5. A Mikkelsen / A Jaeger-Amland NOR Hyundai i20 +46.9 sec
6. E Evans / S Martin GBR Ford Fiesta +51.4 sec
Credits : Photos and content courtesy of Red Bull Media