Championship leader Thierry Neuville’s WRC title hopes suffered a serious blow on Saturday morning at Dayinsure Wales Rally GB when he plunged from second to eighth after sliding into a ditch.
Stage info: SS10/11
SS10: Myherin 1, 20.28km
A Rally GB classic kicks off Super Saturday’s action and it is the only stage identical to 2017. It is fast and smooth from the start with enticing corners early on. Two new sections introduced in the second half last year are retained, and the stage ends with a series of fast open bends overlooking a valley before a downhill finale to the finish. If there is early morning fog around, it will require bravery and confidence to get the best out of it.
SS11: Sweet Lamb Hafren 1, 19.95km
Sweet Lamb and Hafren are amalgamated into one test for 2018. Sweet Lamb is a spectator magnet as fans pack the hillsides around a bowl for uninterrupted views across almost 2km of the stage. It’s downhill from the start, via a double hairpin, into the arena. Three jumps and a water splash provide great entertainment before the road climbs away over the moors into Hafren Forest. The tree-lined roads are smooth, fast and flowing, with a spectacular downhill finale to the finish amid stunning mountain views.
Neuville’s despair was in contrast to the delight of world champion and title rival Sébastien Ogier. The Frenchman delivered on his promise of an all-out attack to charge up to second place following the first two muddy speed tests.
Neuville held onto second through the opening Myherin stage, which was won by a fired-up Ogier. Ogier bounced back from yesterday’s gearbox problems in his Ford Fiesta to climb from an overnight fifth to third, 2.2sec behind Neuville.
But it all changed near the finish of the following Sweet Lamb Hafren special stage when Neuville slid wide on a muddy right corner and his Hyundai i20 dropped into a ditch. Fans manhandled the car back onto the road but the Belgian lost more than 45sec.
“At one point it has to come, when you’re driving on the edge since the beginning of the year. It’s my first mistake where I was stuck somewhere since Monte Carlo. It was my fault,” he admitted.
The i20 sported minor cosmetic damage after the crash and Neuville stopped to check things over before departing for the next Dyfi stage.
Ogier’s surge left him 43.2sec behind leader Ott Tänak, who was third in Myherin and second in Sweet Lamb Hafren in his Toyota Yaris. Conditions worsened with the passage of every car as the muddy forest tracks became polished, but the Estonian was content.
Esapekka Lappi climbed to third in another Yaris, the Finn demoting fellow Finn and team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, despite claiming he was not brave enough in the slippery forests.
He was 1.8sec behind Ogier and 1.1sec ahead of Latvala, who complained of understeer.
Craig Breen was fifth in a Citroën C3, while team-mate Mads Østberg completed the top six. The Norwegian, who fitted new dampers this moring, took full advantage of an early position in the start order to win Sweet Lamb Hafren by 0.7sec from Tänak.
Teemu Suninen failed to restart after his Fiesta’s roll cage was damaged in yesterday’s final stage accident.