Ott Tänak protected his double-figure lead over Thierry Neuville through Sunday morning’s opening speed tests at Wales Rally GB.
Stage info: SS18/19
SS18: 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, which increases the visibility for drivers but also makes the roads harder to read. The surface is smooth and compact.
SS19: Brenig 1, 6.43km
The spectacular roads around Llyn Brenig provide picture postcard scenery. The stage skirts the lake for the first few kilometres which are in the open, meaning the surface is quite dry. After blasting past last year’s podium area on top of the dam, the test drops downhill before turning onto asphalt and then onto a service road for the Brenig facilities to the finish.
The Estonian quickly shattered any thoughts second-placed Neuville may have had of closing the overnight 11.0sec deficit by winning the 10.41km Alwen stage in his Toyota Yaris.
He followed up with third quickest in Brenig and returned to service in Llandudno with a 10.9sec lead after the final stage of the loop, the asphalt blast around the town’s craggy Great Orme headland, was cancelled for safety reasons.
Rough sea conditions meant rally organisers were unable to deploy divers in the safety boat below the huge drops from the cliffs above.
“I’m just focused on finishing the rally. Of course, we need to keep the pace, but the feeling is good in the car so I feel confident,” Tänak said.
Neuville finished second in both stages in his Hyundai i20, extending his advantage over Sébastien Ogier to 13.3sec. The Citroën C3 driver seemed to have accepted that third is the best he can achieve.
“Let’s try to finish as fast as we can but the pace is not so great at the moment,” said the Frenchman.
The main focus through the tests was on the battle for fifth between Elfyn Evans and Andreas Mikkelsen, who were blanketed by just 4.5sec overnight.
Evans struck first, third fastest time in Alwen in his Ford Fiesta slicing 1.5sec from his deficit. He then won Brenig, 4.6sec quicker than the Norwegian’s i20, to ease ahead and potentially put a dent into Hyundai’s manufacturers’ points haul in their enthralling title battle with Toyota Gazoo Racing.
With the cancellation of Great Orme, a second pass through Alwen and Brenig is all that remains ahead of the afternoon’s finish ceremony in Llandudno.