Thick fog descended on the night-time stages of Wales Rally GB, but Elfyn Evans held steady up front despite being 27 seconds off the pace in the first test in Saturday’s final loop.
Evans in all won six of the day’s nine stages, but was lucky to hold his near minute lead steady after a difficult run through Aberhirnant, extremely low visibility compromising his pace through the 14 kilometre test.
Chaos ensued behind the rally leader, primarily involving his M-Sport team-mates and their title rival Thierry Neuville. The Belgian went into the day’s final loop in second, but was only ninth fastest through Aberhirnant, 33.8 seconds slower than stage winner Jari-Matti Latvala.
Ott Tänak was similarly compromised by the dense fog lingering on the stage, 31.4 seconds off Latvala’s pace and falling from third to sixth in an instant. Sébastien Ogier was able to limit his losses despite a puncture late in Aberhirnant and failing brakes in the second pass of Dyfnant.
Despite being 12.2 seconds off Latvala’s pace in the former test, and 3.3 seconds slower than Evans in the latter, Ogier holds second going into the final day, only half a second ahead of Neuville in the final podium position.
Latvala’s breathtaking time in the first night stage moved him into fourth place overall, establishing a 5.9 second advantage over Andreas Mikkelsen, who had gone third quickest through the tricky Aberhirnant stage despite a less than ideal placement of his headlamp pod.
Kris Meeke took a steady approach to both stages, unsure in the thick fog whether to leave his lights on or off. He sits 21.5 second behind Tänak, and with a reasonably comfortable 36.4 second lead over Hayden Paddon.
Paddon was the only driver able to get anywhere close to Latvala’s time in Aberhirnant, a mere half a second off the stage winning time. His battle with team-mate Dani Sordo for 8th was effectively neutralised by an abysmal run in the evening stages by the Spaniard, dropping a minute in Aberhirnant on pace alone.
Sordo’s capitulation promoted Esapekka Lappi to ninth, who had already benefited the stage prior to service from the retirement of team-mate Juho Hänninen. Having hit a tree in the Cholmondeley Castle superspecial, the car damage was deemed so extensive as to render him unable to return under Rally2 tomorrow.
|M-Sport World Rally Team||M||2:32:39.2|
|M-Sport World Rally Team||M||+53.1|
|Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT||M||+57.7|
|M-Sport World Rally Team||M||+1:06.1|
|Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT||M||+1:27.6|
|Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT||M||+2:41.0|