SÉBASTIEN Ogier held a slender Dayinsure Wales Rally GB lead over Jari-Matti Latvala overnight after another remarkable day of twists and turns in this year’s thrilling FIA World Rally Championship title fight.
Ogier enjoyed a dream day in the penultimate leg, climbing from fifth to grab top spot in his Ford Fiesta when title rival and rally-long leader Ott Tänak parked his Toyota Yaris with mechanical problems.
The top four drivers are blanketed by just 14.5 seconds but Thierry Neuville, the third man in the captivating FIA World Rally Championship battle, is not among them. The series leader slid into a ditch and is scrabbling for vital points in eighth.
Wales Rally GB is the 11thround of the 2018 WRC, which finishes with round 13 at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the NSW Coffs Coast on 15-18 November.
Tänak’s overnight lead from Friday was almost doubled when second-placed Neuville dropped 45 sec. while his Hyundai i20 was lifted out of a boggy Sweet Lamb Hafren gully in the morning morning.
“At one point it has to come when you’re driving on the edge since the beginning of the year. I made a mistake and paid for it,” Neuville admitted.
Tänak was more than 40sec clear when he stopped four kilometres into the afternoon repeat of the same stage. The reason was unconfirmed, but it is believed a heavy landing may have damaged his car’s sump guard and broken the radiator.
His demise was Ogier’s delight. Three wins from nine increasingly drying gravel forest road special stages left the Frenchman 4.4 sec. clear of Latvala, an unlikely prospect little more than 24 hours earlier when first and second gears broke.
“It’s a big fight since the beginning of the day. I’m flat out and happy with what I’ve done. I gave it everything I have and will carry on tomorrow. It’s a shame for Ott, he was definitely on another level this weekend,” Ogier said.
Toyota’s Latvala overhauled teammate Esapekka Lappi on the morning loop and remained on Ogier’s heels all day. He ended frustrated after losing vital seconds when blinded by the sun at the start of the last stage and stalling his engine.
Lappi trails his fellow Finn by 7.4 sec. with Craig Breen also in contention a further 1.7 sec. behind in a Citroën C3.
Teammate Mads Østberg was fifth after winning a stage in the morning, while a rejuvenated Andreas Mikkelsen climbed to sixth at the head of a trio of Hyundai i20s. The Norwegian won three stages to head Hayden Paddon and Neuville.
WRC 2 leader Kalle Rovanperä and Skoda Motorsport teammate Pontus Tidemand completed the top 10.
Sunday’s final leg comprises five stages covering 55.64 km in north Wales and unusually the live TV Power Stage takes place in the second test in Gwydir. The rally finishes with a second pass over the asphalt Great Orme Llandudno stage, which winds around a coastal headland before diving into Llandudno’s streets to finish on the promenade.
Outright standings after Saturday:
1 S. Ogier/J. Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta) 2:31:22.5
2 J.M Latvala/M. Anttila (Toyota Yaris) +4.4
3 E. Lappi/J. Ferm (Toyota Yaris) +11.8
4 C. Breen/S. Martin (Citroën C3) +13.5
5 M. Østberg/T. Eriksen (Ford Fiesta) +34.1
6 A. Mikkelsen/A. Jæger (Hyundai i20 Coupe) +36.5
7 H. Paddon/S. Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe) +45.4
8 T. Neuville/N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe) +55.5
9 K. Rovanperä/J Halttunen (Skoda Fabia R5) + 7:30.8
10 P. Tidemand/J. Andersson (Skoda Fabia R5) +8:33.9