SÉBASTIEN Ogier retained the Dayinsure Wales Rally GB lead from Estonian Ott Tänak on Saturday.
The Frenchman, who sealed his fourth consecutive world title in Spain earlier this month, completed the second and penultimate leg with a 33.8 sec advantage over Tänak. Thierry Neuville was third, a further minute adrift in a Hyundai i20.
Ogier has to defend only two loops of three stages covering 52.08km on Sunday to clinch the penultimate round of the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship.
Teams then pack up for the journey to Kennards Hire Rally Australia n the NSW Coffs Coast in 19 days’ time.
Although conditions were better than Friday, fog and greasy dirt roads in mid-Wales ensured driving was far from simple. But Ogier, who has led since the start in his Volkswagen Polo R, kept Estonian Tänak at bay during eight speed tests covering 99.91km.
Tänak won four of the first six special stages in his Ford Fiesta RS to cut the Frenchman’s lead from 37.3sec to 24.8sec. But his hopes were dashed when Ogier regained a large chunk of time in the dank and muddy penultimate test at Aberhirnant.
“I tried to go flat out for the whole day, pushing hard all the time,” said Ogier. “Tomorrow I’ll do what I can and see if it is enough.”
Neuville is chasing the runners-up position in the drivers’ championship and was relieved to escape unscathed after mounting a bank this morning. He pulled away from team-mate Hayden Paddon to end 12.6sec clear.
Paddon could not get to grips with the tricky conditions. The mud required a straighter and more precise driving line, in contrast to the Kiwi’s aggressive style, and although he modified his i20’s set-up, he could not improve the grip.
After being in the thick of the podium fight, a lacklustre Kris Meeke slipped back. The Ulsterman used both spare wheels after two slow punctures this morning in his Citroën DS 3. With no opportunity to take onboard additional tyres, he steered a careful path through the rest of the day to preserve fifth.
Sixth-placed Dani Sordo hated the unpredictable conditions in his i20 but was under no pressure from Mads Østberg behind.
In WRC2, Esapekka Lappi closed on a third straight victory in the category to preserve his world title dream.
The Finn delivered a measured drive to lead championship rival Teemu Suninen by 55.6sec in a Skoda Fabia R5.
Having built a strong lead on Friday, Lappi was content to keep a watch on his rival’s pace. Suninen, also at the wheel of a Fabia R5, reduced his fellow Finn’s advantage to 34.3sec with two stage wins before Lappi responded with two of his own to restore the margin.
Suninen was uncomfortable in the early-morning fog and came under attack from Lappi’s team-mate Pontus Tidemand. The Swede won four stages, halving the deficit to 12.3sec.
Jan Kopecký was fourth, more than a minute behind Tidemand.
Lappi and Kopecký will wrap up their campaigns at Rally Australia.
Classification after Day Two (after 16 of 22 Special Stages):
1. Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (FRA/FRA) VW Polo R WRC 2h 43m25.3s
2. Ott Tänak / Raigo Mõlder (EST/EST) Ford Fiesta RS WRC +33.8s
3. Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL/BEL) Hyundai i20 WRC +1m34.5s
4. Hayden Paddon / John Kennard (NZL/NZL) Hyundai i20 WRC +1m47.1s
5. Kris Meeke / Paul Nagle (GBR/IRL) Citroën DS3 WRC +2m29.5s
6. Dani Sordo / Marc Martí (ESP/ESP) Hyundai i20 WRC +3m36.0s
7. Mads Østberg / Ola Fløene (NOR/NOR) Ford Fiesta RS WRC +4m15.0s
8. Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN) VW Polo R WRC +4m22.2s
9. Stéphane Lefebvre / G. De Turckheim (FRA/FRA) Citroën DS3 WRC +6m52.7s
10. Eric Camilli / Benjamin Veillas (FRA/FRA) Ford Fiesta RS WRC +7m35.6s