Sebastien Loeb remains in the lead of Wales Rally GB after Saturday's action, but Petter Solberg is only 4.8 seconds behind after a thrilling battle between the pair throughout the day.
The morning started eventfully, when Sebastien Ogier crashed out on the opening stage, SS8 Radnor. The Frenchman had begun the day in third place just 3.6 seconds behind leader Loeb. The retirement puts Ogier at risk of losing his second place in the drivers' standings to either Solberg or Jari-Matti Latvala.
Ogier was disappointed to have ended the season off the road. “I really wasn't looking forward to that stage,” he said. “I tackled it cautiously as you always get caught out in such tricky conditions. I came into a fast left-hander a bit too quickly and I wasn't able to take the right line. There was very little grip and I couldn't control the car. We overturned and ended up against a tree stump”
“I'm hopping mad with myself to end up like this as the team stacked all the odds in my favour. It's very disappointing to finish our season like this, all the more so as we're going to lose second place in the world championship. What I'll remember is how much progress we've made in our second year at this level. I'm now looking to the future as next week we're going testing the DS3WRC.”
Solberg took the lead from Loeb on Radnor, and extended his lead by winning SS9 Monument Hill after Loeb missed a junction and stalled. Leob retook the lead from Solberg by winning SS10 Four Ways Crychan though, but the Norwegian won SS11 Halfway to close the gap at midday service to just 2.5 seconds, Loeb spinning on the final stage of the morning.
Into the afternoon stages, Loeb took three straight stage wins to increase his advantage to 6.7 seconds. Solberg then won SS15 Halfway to trim the gap, before Loeb added 0.2 seconds to his lead by winning the Cardiff Bay Superspecial in the evening.
At the end of the day, Loeb said: “Even if I've gained a few seconds during the afternoon, I reckon that we've been on level pegging.“I knew that I could open up a small gap in the morning, but I made a couple of small errors. I hope I'll be able to maintain my advantage tomorrow, but Petter is really going like a bat out of hell to try and win the rally and take second place in the world championship. We've got four stages to decide the outcome.”
Solberg said: “It's been good fun today. I have really enjoyed the driving and the battle for seconds. The car has been working perfectly all day, and it's only my two spins that have made me loose time. Will give it all for a win here tomorrow, and being second on the road is not so bad, as I can run on Loeb's splits.”
Mikko Hirvonen inherited third when Ogier crashed, but is now coming under increased pressure from teammate Latvala, who passed Dani Sordo for fourth as part of his recovery from a puncture while leading on Friday.
Hirvonen was pleased with how the day had panned out after being off the pace on Friday. “Sometimes everything seemed to go really well but then at other times I was just too cautious, especially on the Epynt asphalt,” he explained. “It’s a question of finding my rhythm, but that has been the problem for most of the year. Having said that, everything was much better than yesterday I’m having a good battle with Jari-Matti, but he seems to be in a different zone. He drove very well and very quickly, although I was pleased with some of my times.”
Latvala added: “Ogier’s accident changed the championship situation. I had good speed this morning, but the most important thing in these conditions was firstly to stay on the road. I took some massive risks and made some errors. This afternoon I decided that the gap between myself and the two leaders ahead was too big. I wasn’t going to catch them and I felt uncomfortable taking those risks, so I drove more calmly this afternoon.
“On the final forest stage I lost time at the start after a problem with the launch control. I was angry and pushed hard. But I had to maintain my common sense and not do anything silly. I really want to finish on the podium tomorrow and hope that’s enough for me to take second in the championship. I have a chance of second or third – but I really want second. I like tomorrow’s stages. They’re not easy, but they suit my driving”.
Sordo remains just 16 seconds behind Latvala in fifth, well ahead of the two Stobart Ford's of Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson. Kimi Raikkonen has climbed to eighth, passing Mads Ostberg who suffered a puncture on his Subaru this afternoon. Ken Block had been running in tenth, but was forced to retire with a driveshaft problem on his Monster Ford.
Tenth place has been inherited by Andreas Mikkelsen, who leads the SWRC category ahead of Jari Ketomaa and Xavi Pons, who will wrap up the class title if the positions remain as they are. Armindo Araujo is set to retain his PWRC title, as title rival Patrik Flodin has retired. Ott Tanak is leading the PWRC category on the rally itself.