Thierry Neuville deposed M-Sport pairing Ott Tänak and championship leader Sébastien Ogier for second place in the Saturday morning loop of Wales Rally GB, while Elfyn Evans extended his lead further with fastest times in all four stages so far today.
The rally had kicked off in difficult fashion for the Hyundai driver, having earned a 10 second penalty for checking in late to the Thursday evening superspecial, but having taken a first stage win of the weekend in Friday’s final stage, he started making headway into Ogier’s advantage in third.
Ogier admitted he was not keen to take any risks and backed off, allowing Neuville to fly past into third place through the Gartheiniog stage.
The next scalp for Neuville was Tänak on the following stage, Dyfi. He gained 7.1 seconds over the second M-Sport car during the 25.9 kilometre test, sneaking into second by only 1.2 seconds as the cars headed towards the late morning regroup in Corris.
Though the 1-2-3 held by M-Sport overnight had been compromised by the rapidly improving Neuville, the DMACK-shod car of Evans continued to press ahead, winning all four stages in the morning loop to increase his lead to 49.3 seconds.
Saturday’s stages are truly home territory for Evans, living only a few miles away from the Gartheiniog stage. Having pushed too hard on previous years, Evans took a much more neat and tidy approach this time around, to great effect.
Jari-Matti Latvala regained the fifth place he held overnight after a mistake from Kris Meeke in the loop-ending Dyfi test. The lead Citroën driver had usurped Latvala in the opening stage to take the position, but he slid wide and clattered a hay bale, dropping ten seconds and falling behind Andreas Mikkelsen into seventh.
Mikkelsen had been catching Latvala all morning, but faced a setback when a 10 second penalty was handed down for a jump start in Dyfnant, so remains 4.7 seconds behind the Finn for now.
Hayden Paddon passed Hyundai team-mate Dani Sordo for eighth despite a front-left puncture in Dyfnant, and Juho Hänninen continued to hold Toyota team-mate Esapekka Lappi at bay for the final championship point in tenth.
Mads Østberg‘s disastrous rally continued to throw up problems, an issue with the centre differential opening and closing at random throwing him off the road repeatedly during the morning’s quartet of stages. The problem was serious enough to force his Adapta team to retire the car at the Corris regroup at the end of the morning loop.
In the WRC2 support category, Pontus Tidemand extended his lead to nearly a minute, with Tom Cave now the closest challenger. The Brit moved into second after pipping Eric Camilli by 3.4 seconds in the Dyfi test, establishing a 2.2 second lead over the Frenchman.
|M-Sport World Rally Team||M||1:49:39.7|
|M-Sport World Rally Team||M||+50.5|
|M-Sport World Rally Team||M||+56.8|
|Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT||M||+1:10.3|
|Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT||M||+1:15.5|
|Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT||M||+2:10.2|