Jari-Matti Latvala leads Sebastien Loeb by 6.1 seconds going into the final day of Wales Rally GB, after a Saturday that saw the balance of power swing between the two drivers.
Latvala had closed up to be just 1.1s behind the Frenchman (who claimed his eighth world title when Mikko Hirvonen was forced to retire on Friday) overnight, but Loeb opened up his lead again during Saturday morning's three stages. This left him 7.3s ahead of the Finn at midday service.
The balance swung back in Latvala's favour during the afternoon loop though, winning all three stages to overturn Loeb's advantage and move ahead.
Mads Ostberg held third coming into the day's first stage, but looked under pressure from fellow Norwegian Petter Solberg. However, Solberg was forced to stop on the road section to the opening test with a broken fuel pipe, bringing his season to an unhappy, premature end.
Ostberg was reporting an engine problem, but is hoping to have it fixed overnight. He has a three minute cushion over compatriot and M-Sport Stobart teammate Henning Solberg.
Kris Meeke has climbed to fifth in his Mini, despite breaking an engine mounting on the day's first stage and subsequently losing time until service. He was later able to move back ahead of Matthew Wilson in the battle to be top Brit on home soil, and is now only 45s behind Solberg.
Dennis Kuipers is a strong seventh in his Ferm-backed Fiesta, but has only five seconds in hand on DMACK tyre-shod Fiesta of Ott Tanak. The Estonian was running fifth on his World Rally Car debut until a time consuming off on the final stage of the morning loop.
After holding seventh overnight, Kimi Raikkonen crashed his Citroen on the first stage of the day – perhaps bringing the curtain down (in typical style) on his two year rallying stint.
Evgeny Novikov is 20 seconds behind Tanak in the Team Abu Dhabi-entered Fiesta that he has taken over from Khalid Al Qassimi for this weekend. Ken Block completes the top ten in his Monster Ford.
Armindo Araujo is next up in his Mini, with Volkswagen-entry Kevin Abbring and Subaru R4 driver Hayden Paddon fighting over 12th and the honour of best non-WRC entry.
Patrick Flodin continues to lead the PWRC runners in 14th, just ahead of the recovering Sebastien Ogier – fighting back under superally after his SS1 crash.
The biggest drama of the day took place in the WRC Academy, where Craig Breen not only took a dominant 4m36.1s win the class on the rally, but also managed to overturn a 20 point deficit to season-long leader Egon Kaur to claim the inaugural title.
With a bonus point awarded for each stage win, Irishman Breen's 14 stage wins out of 17 allowed him to draw level with Kaur on total points. With total stage wins over the course of the season being the decider for the tiebreak, Breen became the winner of the 500 Euro scholarship prize.
Top ten positions after SS17:
|1.||Jari-Matti Latvala||Ford Abu Dhabi||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||2:38:37.9|
|2.||Sebastien Loeb||Citroen Total||Citroen DS3 WRC||+6.1|
|3.||Mads Ostberg||M-Sport Stobart||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+2:43.9|
|4.||Henning Solberg||M-Sport Stobart||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+5:35.0|
|5.||Kris Meeke||Mini||Mini John Cooper Works WRC||+6:20.0|
|6.||Matthew Wilson||M-Sport Stobart||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+7:05.6|
|7.||Dennis Kuipers||Ferm||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+7:57.4|
|8.||Ott Tanak||M-Sport Stobart||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+8:02.3|
|9.||Evgeny Novikov||Abu Dhabi||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+8:22.3|
|10.||Ken Block||Monster||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+13:24.7|