Ott Tänak won all three of Sunday morning’s opening speed tests at Dayinsure Wales Rally GB but Sébastien Ogier remained firmly in control at the head of the leaderboard.
Stage info: SS17-SS19
SS17:Clocaenog 1, 7.70km
Clocaenog is one of the most slippery stages of the event. The surface is smooth but muddy in several places where forest vehicles have been working. Elsewhere there is a shiny covering to the gravel tracks which is equally as hazardous. It’s a fast test but heather growing high on both sides of the road affects visibility. Part of the stage was used in Thursday’s shakedown.
SS18: Brenig 1, 7.93km
There aren’t many stages in the WRC that have a finish as spectacular as this one – on top of the Llyn Brenig dam. The road skirts the water’s edge for the first few kilometres before narrowing and becoming wetter, and even muddy, as it dives between the trees. A narrow asphalt section leads into an uphill climb across an open hillside and onto that finish.
SS19: Alwen 1, 10.41km
Alwen is quite different in nature to other Rally GB tests, with plenty of long straights leading into square junctions. It is wide and fast and forest work has removed trees to increase the visibility for drivers. However, it also means there are several muddy sections, particularly near the start.
Estonian Tänak, driving a Ford Fiesta RS, beat his French rival by 0.6sec in the Clocaenog opener. He regained a further 3.5sec at Brenig before completing the loop with fastest in Alwen to claw back another 3.8sc from the Volkswagen Polo R pilot.
The gap between the duo was 25.9sec with just three stages remaining in this penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship but Tänak was not risking all on the slippery gravel forest tracks.
“It’s crazy. The roads are really slippery in the first two stages, very tricky conditions,” he said. “I have no interest to push at the maximum, I don’t want to make any mistakes. There was a bit more grip in the last one and I had a good feeling and rhythm. I enjoyed that one.”
Ogier continued to push hard, acknowledging that Tänak’s tyres gave him an edge on the greasy roads.
“I’m still pushing, I’m on the limit,” he said. “I said yesterday that we would lose time today and I knew we needed a gap. We still have that gap so that’s OK, but I need to keep driving well.”
Thierry Neuville remained third in his Hyundai i20, despite a small mistake in Clocaenog when he slid wide in a hairpin. His advantage over team-mate Hayden Paddon remained pretty much unchanged at 12.3sec, the Kiwi happier with his car’s balance after making set-up changes overnight.
Kris Meeke stayed fifth in a Citroën DS 3, likening the slippery conditions to ice in places, with Dani Sordo sixth in another i20. Jari-Matti Latvala moved his Polo R into seventh ahead of Mads Østberg’s Ford Fiesta RS.
Yazeed Al Rajhi had major gearbox concerns in his Fiesta RS, while Valeriy Gorban went off the road twice in Clocaenog and also punctured in his Mini John Cooper.