Pontus Tidemand backed up his newly acquired WRC2 drivers’ champion status with a mesmerising drive through the night stages of Wales Rally GB, nearly doubling his lead in the space of only 32 kilometres.
Škoda’s lead driver won fives stages in all during the course of Saturday’s leg, but it was his drive through the Aberhirnant re-run in thick fog which stole the show, going 36.2 seconds faster than nearest WRC2 rival Eric Camilli. Tidemand even bested the WRC specification Hyundai of Dani Sordo on merit, 13,3 seconds faster than the Spaniard on pace alone.
After a hectic day of incidents on Friday, Saturday saw a more settled look to the leaderboard, with the top five in a holding pattern from the start of the afternoon loop until the finish line at Dyfnant 2.
Tom Cave was the main man on the move, eating into Camilli’s advantage for second place and making the breakthrough into the runners-up spot through the first pass of Dyfi.
Over the following three stages Cave would extend his gap to over 20 seconds, but as night fell, so too did his gap to Camilli. The Frenchman won the last stage of the day, closing the gap between the pair to only 7.1 seconds with a little over 41 kilometres of competitive running left.
David Bogie jumped into fourth during the evening re-run of Dyfnant, having spent the entire day battling closely with Eyvind Brynildsen for the position.
The DMACK-shod Fiesta R5 of Brynildsen suffered a suspected exhaust leak in the day’s last stage, costing him 11.4 seconds to Bogie. The pair are now separated by a mere 2.5 seconds with five stages remaining.
Juuso Nordgren soldiered on in the second factory Škoda, remaining still uncomfortable in the damp and slippery conditions after doing the recce in dry conditions. He moved into sixth in the evening loop, taking advantage of a slow time from Matt Edwards in the foggy Aberhirnant test.
Much like Edwards, Pierre-Louis Loubet struggled through the extremely low visibility of the first evening stage, going over a minute and a half slower than pacesetter Tidemand and dropping to eighth.
The third best Brit Gus Greensmith was the main beneficiary of Loubet’s woes, moving to seventh despite a 10 second penalty for checking out of morning service late.
Edwards slipped to ninth after his time loss, holding a comfortable advantage over Łukasz Pieniążek in tenth by over three minutes. Fellow Brit Matthew Wilson had been in the mix for points on his rally return, but two punctures in Dyfi left him out of spares and forced to retire in the road section after the stage finish.
Another contender for points hit trouble at the same time as Wilson, fellow Ford runner Teemu Suninen suffering yet more misery after a puncture dropped him far down the order yesterday.
The Finn’s power steering broke in the road section between the afternoon Gartheiniog and Dyfi stages, leaving him to fight his way to service. He continued no further, failing to show for the evening loop and retiring.
Series debutant Kalle Rovanperä returned under Rally2 regulations and turned in a subdued performance in the morning and afternoon tests. He came alive in the tricky Aberhirnant night stage, going third quickest to pass the struggling Ole Christian Veiby for 17th.
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* 10 second penalty for checking out late from TC7H (Service – Out)