The 2018 FIA World Rally Championship continues to deliver dramatic action, with twists and turns repeatedly flipping the leaderboard and Championship fight on its head.
Ott Tänak, the dominant leader of Wales Rally GB, is the latest victim and the Estonian – who was chasing a fourth consecutive win – was forced into retirement this afternoon, handing the lead to Championship rival Sébastien Ogier.
The reigning FIA World Rally Champion does, however, head a quartet of crews chasing the event win, with Jari-Matti Latvala, Esapekka Lappi and Craig Breen all within 13.5 seconds of the Frenchman.
Tänak went into the repeated stages this afternoon with an impressive 48-second advantage over Ogier. The Frenchman won the stage clawing back 6.1 seconds on the Estonian, but on the next stage, disaster struck for Tänak when he was forced to park up his Toyota Yaris WRC with a damaged radiator and loss of water pressure, a devastating blow in the event and Championship battle.
Ogier assumed the lead, but with a pack chasing, the Fiesta driver had to keep the pressure up as Toyota desperately need second-placed Latvala to challenge for the win to help minimise Tänak’s points loss in the Championship.
The Finn is all too aware of the position he and team-mate Lappi are in, and he halved the gap to Ogier in the third stage with a stage win to come to within 2.9 seconds of the lead, before dropping a couple of seconds in the final stage when he stalled in a hairpin.
The pair is however only split by 4.4 seconds going into the final day on Sunday with Latvala’s team-mate Lappi a further 7.4 seconds adrift. The younger Finn admitted to having little hope of matching Ogier’s pace, but maintaining at least third position will not only keep Tänak’s Belgian rival further behind but also help Toyota in its bid for the Manufacturers’ Championship title.
Breen is however only another 1.7 seconds behind, setting up a four-way fight over tomorrow’s five stages and 55 competitive kilometres where Power Stage points will also play a big part in the title fight.
Mads Østberg is fifth, 34.1 seconds off the lead but with Andreas Mikkelsen hot on his heels in sixth. The Norwegian has had a great afternoon with two stage wins, and he heads Hyundai team-mates Hayden Paddon and Thierry Neuville.
While team orders are sure to come into play tomorrow, ensuring Neuville takes as many points as possible, the Belgian will also be chasing maximum Power Stage points.
Kalle Rovanperä continues to be the runaway leader in the FIA WRC 2 Championship, and the Finn has over a minute on Pontus Tidemand, who needs to win this event to keep his category title hopes alive. Rovanperä won two of the afternoon’s four stages with Tidemand and Eric Camilli claiming the others.
In the two-wheel drive FIA WRC 3 Championship, Tom Williams takes nearly four minutes advantage into the closing day, Enrico Brazzoli and Taisko Lario trailing in second and third positions respectively.
|1.||Sébastien Ogier||M-Sport Ford World Rally Team||2h:31m.22.5s|
|2.||Jari-Matti Latvala||Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT||+4.4s|
|3.||Esapekka Lappi||Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT||+11.8s|
|4.||Craig Breen||Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT||+13.5s|
|5.||Mads Østberg||Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT||+34.1s|
|6.||Andreas Mikklesen||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||+36.5s|
|7.||Hayden Paddon||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||+45.4s|
|8.||Thierry Neuville||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||+55.5s|
|9.||Kalle Rovanperä||Škoda Motorsport II||+7m.30.5s|
|10.||Pontus Tidemand||Škoda Motorsport II||+8m.33.9s|