Ott Tänak remained firmly in control of Dayinsure Wales Rally GB after increasing his lead during Saturday morning’s long loop of forest speed tests in mid-Wales.
Stage info: SS12-14
SS12: Dyfi 1, 19.48km
Dyfi, in the shadow of the Snowdonia mountains, is a GB classic. This year’s version is a slightly shorter form of 2016’s route and driven in the opposite direction to last year. It rises and falls on a good surface with plenty of fast and challenging corners. The entire stage is blisteringly quick, but drivers must beware a long fast right bend 700 metres from the finish, which has a bump on the inside and could throw cars up onto two wheels.
SS13: Gartheiniog 1, 11.26km
Garth, as it is known locally, is unchanged from last year apart from the removal of 1.3km at the start. There are numerous hairpins in the opening kilometres and it climbs and descends throughout. Plenty of open sections mean visibility is good and drivers have opportunities to attack hard. The surface is soft, especially near the start, and it is likely to become rutted quickly. Home territory for Elfyn Evans, who lives close by.
SS14: Dyfnant, 8.30km
Wide and flowing forest roads characterise much of Dyfnant, with some great corners to entice drivers. The tracks are dry and dusty apart from a muddy section three-quarters of the way through. The stage is the same as 2016 until the final 300 metres, which are driven in the opposite direction to last year and are much tighter.
Championship leader Thierry Neuville’s early morning mistake virtually doubled Tänak’s advantage and the Estonian reached the sanctuary of the mid-leg tyre fitting zone in Newtown with a 48.0sec lead.
He won the 19.48km Dyfi special stage, his only victory of the morning, and was unconcerned both by the fortunes of Neuville and fellow title rival Sébastien Ogier behind and damage to the front right aero package of his Toyota Yaris.
“I have my job to do and the other guys have their job to do. I don’t care what they are doing. The afternoon will be hard, these roads get polished so it will be slippery like hell. I don’t know why but I’m lacking a bit of power today but the chassis is working well,” he said.
The wet and muddy gravel tracks of the first two tests gave way to drier conditions as the sun made its first appearance of the event and there was a fierce four-way fight for second.
Ogier headed the quartet in his Ford Fiesta but the Frenchman had only 1.7sec in hand over Jari-Matti Latvala’s Yaris and was deep in thought about the championship situation after Neuville’s error.
“The picture is a bit different now so we can’t go flat out like we did in the first stage this morning,” he said.
Latvala was quickest in the morning’s final Dyfnant test to move 2.5sec clear of team-mate Esapekka Lappi, who he demoted in the previous stage.
Craig Breen was 3.2sec behind in fifth in a Citroën C3 but with just 7.4sec blanketing the four drivers, there was all to play for on the lower steps of the podium.
Mads Østberg rounded off the top six, the Norwegian completing Dyfnant with a stageside banner and metal framework wrapped around his C3 after swiping it just before the finish.
Hyundai i20s filled the next three places. Hayden Paddon had 7.8sec in hand over road opener Andreas Mikkelsen, who was fastest in Gartheiniog, with Neuville still coming to terms with his visit to a Sweet Lamb Hafren ditch a further 1.6sec adrift.
“We continue pushing. We went with the medium tyre choice on the front axle this morning, we were surprised by the grip and went off. We won’t give up,” he explained.
WRC 2 leader Kalle Rovanperä completed the leaderboard.