Elfyn Evans‘ runaway pace at the head of Wales Rally GB has finally abated, though his lead is holding steady at 46.3 seconds, having been has high as 50.6 seconds earlier this afternoon.
The DMACK-shod Fiesta started to lose grip in the latter stages of the afternoon Dyfi rerun, conceding stage victory for the first time on Saturday in the final split of the stage.
In the final stage before cars return to Deeside service for a new set of rubber, Evans dropped a further 1.6 seconds to the chasing Thierry Neuville, who broke Evans’ earlier dominance with stage wins in both Dyfi and Cholmondeley Castle.
Ott Tänak remains third, admitting begrudgingly after the second pass of Dyfi that there was nothing he could do to keep pace with the rapidly escaping Hyundai driver.
He is now engaged in a tight duel with M-Sport team-mate Sébastien Ogier, who has struggled to find a good rhythm amidst the pressures of reaching the finish in one piece to wrap up the drivers’ championship.
The title protagonists will be looking behind them during the forthcoming loop of night stages, as Andreas Mikkelsen continued to improve through the afternoon loop.
A ten second penalty for a jump start in the morning pass of Dyfnant was rescinded on appeal, immediately promoting Mikkelsen to fifth before turning a wheel in the Cholmondeley Castle superspecial. He is now near equidistant from those ahead and behind; Ogier 8.3 seconds up the road, and Latvala trailing 8.2 seconds behind.
A bemused Kris Meeke remains seventh, within ten seconds of Jari-Mati Latvala ahead. The Citroën team leader lost the upper plane of his rear wing, reacting with astonishment when informed by stage end reporters at the conclusion of the Gartheiniog rerun it had fallen off.
Hayden Paddon continued to fend off team-mate Dani Sordo for eighth, clinging on by 2.8 seconds despite a hydraulics issue arising on the road section between Gartheiniog and Dyfi.
With both gearbox and differential compromised, he struggled his way through the following two stages before afternoon service, losing 5.7 seconds to the Spaniard over the course of just 1.8 kilometres in the Cholmondeley Castle test.
A difficult weekend for the Toyota team was made even worse by retirement for Juho Hänninen in the last stage of the second loop. He broke the suspension of his Yaris WRC after hitting a tree, promoting team-mate Esapekka Lappi into the final points place.
Lappi has been at a loss to explain his lack of pace all weekend, but has no competition to worry about behind, WRC2 leader Pontus Tidemand being over five minutes behind.
A struggling Eric Camilli has fallen away from second placed WRC2 runner Tom Cave, though a stronger performance in the Cholmondeley superspecial has given the Frenchman a breather from the chasing Eyvind Brynildsen and David Bogie close behind.
|M-Sport World Rally Team||M||2:13:47.8|
|M-Sport World Rally Team||M||+1:01.1|
|M-Sport World Rally Team||M||+1:04.9|
|Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT||M||+1:21.4|
|Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT||M||+1:30.6|
|Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT||M||+2:53.1|