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.
Stage info: SS12/13
SS12: Myherin 1, 22.91km
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, known locally as Pike’s Peak, some of which tighten at the exit, on adverse camber.
SS13: Sweet Lamb Hafren 1, 25.65km
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. Two 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 final section, blasting out of the forest and descending amid stunning mountain views.
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.