LOCAL hero Elfyn Evans delivered a masterclass to lead an extraordinary 1-2-3 for his M-Sport team after Friday’s stages at Dayinsure Wales Rally GB.
The Welshman won three of the six slippery speed tests in the mid-Wales forests to finish 24.6 seconds ahead of teammate Ott Tänak. In third place, Sébastien Ogier moved another step closer to a fifth drivers’ world title, while the British team looked certain to clinch the FIA World Rally Championship for manufacturers at the Sunday finish.
Evans, whose popularity among home fans prompted them to name a corner in his honour, revelled in the muddy conditions using a new specially-developed tyres.
Sunshine and mild temperatures did little to dry the forest roads and Evans – who could win his first WRC event – hopes for similar conditions on Saturday, when this penultimate round of the series passes within five kilometres of his home.
The Welsh result will determine the prizes still to be chased when the WRC stages its final round of the season at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the Coffs Coast on 16-19 November.
“Hopefully the sunshine will go away – and I don’t say that very often in Wales,” the Ford Fiesta driver joked.
“There’s been a bit of pressure leading my home event but this is a great position to be in. Tomorrow will be the key day.”
Constantly changing grip levels meant drivers struggled for confidence in the morning, but Tänak remained within striking distance of his colleague. But the Estonian was never comfortable with his Fiesta’s balance and was distanced by the afternoon.
Ogier admitted he was not brave enough in the slippery sections, but profited from Tänak’s frustrations. He claimed a stage win and ended as the sandwich between Tänak and Thierry Neuville, the only drivers who can prevent the Frenchman from clinching the title this weekend.
Neuville was 10.3sec adrift of Ogier and even more irritated than Tänak. He received a 10sec penalty last night after arriving late for the curtain-raising Tir Prince test when his Hyundai i20 refused to fire up.
The cause remained unresolved and a stalled engine at only the third junction of Friday’s opening Myherin stage, severe understeer and the handicap of co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul losing his voice added up to a tough time for the Belgian.
Jari-Matti Latvala struggled with understeer and lack of traction in his Toyota Yaris. The Finn was fifth, a tenth of a second ahead of Kris Meeke, who was in the top three in the morning before sliding back in the second loop.
Saturday is a 17-hour marathon comprising nine stages and 142.38km. An early restart heralds a gruelling loop of more than 110km without service or a tyre change, before competitors face two tests in darkness.
Top 10 after Friday:
1. Elyn Evans / Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) 1hr 09min 20.9sec
2. Ott Tänak / Martin Järveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +24.6sec
3. Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +26.8sec
4. Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe) +37.1sec
5. Jari-Matti Latvala / Miika Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +41.9sec
6. Kris Meeke / Paul Nagle (Citroën C3 WRC) +42.0sec
7. Andreas Mikkelsen / Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +52.0
8. Dani Sordo / Marc Marti (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1:13.9
9. Hayden Paddon / Sebastian Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1:22.9
10. Juho Hänninen / Kaj Lindstrom (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:43.5