World champion Sébastien Ogier set the early pace at Dayinsure Wales Rally GB with fastest time in Friday morning’s foggy and slippery opening two speed tests.
Stage info: SS1 / SS2
SS1: Myherin 1, 31.82km
A Rally GB classic kicks off the action – but with a difference, as Myherin is driven in the opposite direction to normal. It is fast and smooth from the start with enticing corners early on. The stage twice weaves between wind turbines during a long section across open moorland. It ends with a fast descent through a sequence of wide road hairpins, some of which tighten at the exit, on adverse camber.
SS2: Sweet Lamb 1, 4.24km
Sweet Lamb is a spectator magnet as fans pack the hillsides in the bowl for uninterrupted views across almost 2km of the stage. It’s all downhill from the start, via a double hairpin, into the arena. Two jumps and a water splash provide great entertainment before the road climbs away over the moors to the finish. Only a few hundred metres are the same as last year but that section is where Jari-Matti Latvala crashed.
He powered his Volkswagen Polo R through Myherin 7.6sec quicker than Ott Tänak’s Ford Fiesta RS, before stopping the clocks fastest in the short Sweet Lamb stage. It gave him a 12.1sec lead over Tänak but it was a far from easy start for Ogier.
“It’s very, very slippery and the visibility is quite bad in the middle with heavy fog,” he said at the finish of Myherin. “I had some issues with my wipers which were sticking sometimes. Hard to find the confidence.”
It was a damp and dank morning in the mid-Wales forests. Fine drizzle made the gravel roads muddier than expected and, combined with the fog, Myherin was a rude wake-up call for drivers after the near three-hour drive south from the Deeside service park.
“You can’t see anything and it’s muddy like hell. The cars ahead are generating so much loose mud that it’s really hard to drive,” said Ford Fiesta RS driver Tänak, summing up the view that road opener Ogier had the best of the conditions which worsened with every car.
Hayden Paddon was third in Myherin and sixth in Sweet Lamb in his Hyundai i20 to hold third overall. He was 2.0sec behind Tänak and 0.3sec in front of Craig Breen’s Citroën DS 3. Fourth in Myherin was a pleasant surprise for the Irishman who said it was the ‘worst I’ve ever driven in my life’.
Andreas Mikkelsen and Kris Meeke were fifth and sixth overall, the Briton deflated after a ‘hellishly slippery’ Myherin. “They’re perfect conditions for first on the road. We’ll just enjoy the weekend and let Ogier run away with it,” said Meeke, whose low start position did him no favours.
Thierry Neuville believed his i20 was too hard for the slippery Myherin but third fastest in Sweet Lamb left the Belgian eighth, just behind the Polo R of Jari-Matti Latvala.