SS4-6: Tänak widens GB lead

Ott Tänak dominated Friday morning at Dayinsure Wales Rally GB with a hat-trick of forest speed test victories that propelled him into an 8.9sec lead.

Stage info: SS4-6

SS4: Penmachno 1, 16.95km
The narrow northern part of Penmachno was last used in the 1990s and is joined to the wider southern part by an asphalt link road. After a fast start, the stage passes through a quarry, before a narrow dipping 600 metre section full of bumps and jumps, known as the ‘Cresta Run’. It’s a fast test with several hidden corners where accurate pace notes will be crucial. A hairpin slows the pace just before the finish.

SS5/6: Slate Mountain 1/2, 1.63km
A new fan-friendly stage around a slate quarry. The road is challenging and fast with a big jump after 300 metres and a tight downhill hairpin shortly after. There are many different surfaces to keep the drivers on their toes.

Tänak followed his wins in Clocaenog and Brenig with a third consecutive fastest time in Penmachno at the wheel of his Toyota Yaris, allowing himself the luxury of a more cautious approach in the foggy and rain-soaked double-header at Slate Mountain.

The Estonian is chasing a fourth consecutive rally win and while he returned to mid-leg service in Deeside in a happy frame of mind, title rivals Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier carried the frowns of worried men.

The Belgian was 21.8sec adrift in fifth and planning set-up changes to his Hyundai i20 to improve grip, while Ogier was almost 30sec back in eighth after losing first and second gears in his Ford Fiesta.

Muddy gravel tracks and a constantly changing road surface ensured inconsistent grip all morning and Tänak was content to head for the respite of service. “It was hard. So many grip changes and loose mud, but when it is consistent, it’s nice,” he said.

Local hero and 2017 rally winner Elfyn Evans was second in a Fiesta. The Welshman was one of just two drivers to opt for Michelin’s medium compound tyres in preference to soft rubber or a mix, but the times suggested there was little to choose between the choices.

Jari-Matti Latvala was 15.4sec off the lead in third in another Yaris. Understeer plagued the Finn all morning and differential changes were planned in service.

Teemu Suninen, Neuville and Craig Breen filled the next three places and were covered by just 1.4sec, championship leader Neuville missing a Penmachno junction in his efforts to rein in Tänak.

“We can’t follow the pace of the Toyotas and when we try, we make mistakes. We’re not setting any good times. It’s frustrating but I’m sure we can solve the problem. We’re missing grip and the car isn’t doing what I want, it’s not reacting,” said the Belgian.

Esapekka Lappi’s Yaris provided the sandwich between Breen and Ogier, who faced a 100km liaison section to service with the damaged gearbox.

“It was very difficult in the last two stages. There was a very tight hairpin and a start where I only have third gear. The morning was close to a disaster to be honest,” said Ogier, who also spun twice in Penmachno.

Mads Østberg and Hayden Paddon completed the leaderboard in a Citroën C3 and i20 respectively. Just outside the top 10 was a despondent Andreas Mikkelsen, who described his i20 as ‘uncontrollable’.

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