WELSHMAN Elfyn Evans remains on track for maiden victory at Dayinsure Wales Rally GB, while lending a massive helping hand to teammate Sébastien Ogier to win a fifth-straight FIA World Rally Championship.
Chasing the first home victory by a Briton in 17 years, Evans won five of the six wet and muddy morning speed tests in mid-Wales, before surviving a torrid evening in thick fog and rain to return his Ford Fiesta to the overnight halt in Deeside with a 53.1sec lead over Ogier.
Early dank conditions were a gift for Evans, whose Fiesta was fitted with a new design of tyres developed for such weather.
“This morning we had perfect conditions, we couldn’t have wished for better. But I’m glad tonight is over. It was absolutely mad in the fog and I couldn’t see a thing in places,” he said.
Ogier was a relieved man. He drove cautiously, knowing victory for Evans could be enough to deny Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak the points they need to take the title battle to next month’s final round at Kennards Hire Rally Australia.
But the penultimate Aberhirnant stage was engulfed in fog and Ogier hit a stone, puncturing his Fiesta’s front left wheel and damaging the brakes. The Frenchman worked furiously to remove the brake disc before easing through the final test.
“I did the stage with only three brakes, it’s a miracle we’re here now. We couldn’t push because we had no power on the brakes. We had to brake early all the time,” he said.
Neuville threw caution to the wind in his Hyundai i20 Coupe to overhaul Tänak and Ogier for second in a bid to keep his championship chances alive, until the weather delivered a cruel blow and dropped him behind Ogier by 0.5sec.
“We probably had the most fog. I was trying but it was impossible to see. It’s so disappointing. We’ve been fighting hard and never given up and then you get this,” he said.
Ogier’s teammate Tänak fared even worse in the fog in his M-Sport Fiesta. He plunged from third to sixth, although just 13sec cover five cars behind Evans.
Jari-Matti Latvala was fourth, 4.1sec adrift of Neuville, as he finally began to get on top of the traction and understeer issues that have hampered him all weekend. Andreas Mikkelsen was fifth in another i20, the Norwegian 5.9sec further back.
Sunday’s finale comprises five forest tests in north Wales covering 41.17km. The final test alongside the picturesque Llyn Brenig reservoir forms the Power Stage, with bonus points awarded to the fastest five drivers.
Top 10 after Saturday:
1. E Evans / D Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) 2h32m39.2s
2. S Ogier / J Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +53.1sec
3. T Neuville / N Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe) +53.6sec
4. J-M Latvala / M Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +57.7sec
5. A Mikkelsen / A Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1m03.6s
6. O Tänak / M Järveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m06.1s
7 K Meeke / P Nagle (Citroën C3 WRC) +1:27.6
8 H Paddon / S Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2:04.0
9 E Lappi / J Fern (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2:41.0
10 D Sordo / M Martí (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +3:35.8
(Author: Chris Nixon)