Elfyn Evans won Saturday morning’s opening two speed tests to increase his lead at Dayinsure Wales Rally GB.
Stage info: SS8/9
SS8 Aberhirnant 1, 13.91km
An early start to Saturday but drivers must be wide awake here with two long straights in the opening couple of kilometres to raise the heartbeat. It remains fast with plenty of high-speed corners, and tree branches have been cut back from the road to improve visibility for drivers in the bends.
SS9: Dyfnant 1, 17.91km
Wide and flowing forest roads characterise much of Dyfnant, with some great corners to entice drivers. It was last used in this format in 2014, but a new 2.3km section has been added at the start which is narrow and covered in slippery leaves. The surface is good throughout and drivers will love the final downhill part with some superb fast bends to attack.
The Ford Fiesta driver was fastest by 2.5sec from Thierry Neuville in Aberhirnant. He then won a drizzly Dyfnant by 3.5sec from Andreas Mikkelsen to stretch his advantage to 36.1sec over M-Sport World Rally Team colleague Ott Tänak.
The damp conditions were a present for Evans, whose Fiesta was fitted with a new range of tyres developed specifically for such weather.
“The first two stages have gone OK but this one was exceptionally difficult,” he said at the Dyfnant finish. “It was tricky to find the grip, it was very changeable. There’s a bit of understeer but with such low grip that’s inevitable.”
Tänak was fourth in both tests and the Estonian’s advantage over Sébastien Ogier rose to 6.7sec. A cautious Ogier had his eyes on Thierry Neuville behind, as the Belgian cut the deficit to 2.6sec with top three times in both tests in his Hyundai i20.
“It’s not really the plan to battle too hard this weekend. I didn’t have a good feeling in that stage,” said the title-chasing Ogier after Dyfnant.
Neuville and Tänak avoided a huge rock unearthed on the driving line in Dyfnant, but Ogier could not miss it and rattled his Fiesta right over the top.
Kris Meeke relegated Jari-Matti Latvala from fifth, despite missing junctions in both stages in his Citroën C3. Latvala changed his Toyota Yaris’ suspension to try to cure yesterday’s understeer problems but the Finn was unsure if the handling was any better.
Mikkelsen closed on Latvala but a 10sec penalty for a jump start in Dyfnant knocked the Norwegian back again. The gap between them was 10.9sec.
Craig Breen suffered handbrake problems in his Citroën C3 and Hayden Paddon had a front left puncture in Dyfnant. Esapekka Lappi made set-up changes to his Yaris after Aberhirnant, but they had an adverse effect and the Finn planned to revert to the original settings.