PREVIEW: 2019 FIA World Rally Championship – Wales Rally GB: Can Ogier Catch Tänak?

by Steven Batey

Sebastien Ogier ensured he’s not letting Ott Tänak runaway with the title in the 2019 FIA World Rally Championship by taking the win on Rally Turkey and as the twelfth round takes place in Wales on Rally GB this weekend, will he continue to close the gap at the top of the standings and take his sixth Rally GB win?

A mammoth event is set to take place this weekend, with long days, not much sleep and a wide range of weather conditions all set to play their part in what is one of the toughest rallies on the calendar.

Beginning with a ceremonial start in Liverpool on Thursday afternoon, the opening super special is a blast around Oulton Park; 2019 is the first time the championship has visited the Cheshire circuit in 26 years.

After then heading to the service area overnight based in Llandudno – a change for 2019 from Deeside that has hosted the championship’s base in recent years, Friday has nine stages all in North Wales which includes a test in the Snowdonia Mountains designed with spectators in mind.

Ogier took the win here 12 months ago. Photo Credit: @World

The following day, ‘Super Saturday’ again returns and has to be one of the most daunting throughout the entire championship. More than half of the total stage miles of the event is covered in one day and with no service planned between the start and end of the seven stages, both the cars and crews will be tested to the extreme.

Saturday’s stages feature three world famous tests repeated twice; Sweet Lamb, Myherin and The Dyfi all make an appearance with the final test on Saturday evening being a sprint around the sea front of the town of Colwyn Bay.

After a final overnight halt, Sunday sees five more stages to decide the winner of the 2019 event where again the forests in North Wales feature heavily. A second run through Brenig becomes the Power Stage and concludes the event.

After Ogier’s win in Turkey, the gap at the top of the standings is reduced to just 17 points after Tänak’s problems early in the event. Thierry Neuville in third is also still in the running, although will need three strong results in the remaining rounds of the year and hope his two rivals falter if he is to claim a maiden world title.

Elfyn Evans makes his long awaited return to the WRC on his home event. Photo Credit: Jaanus Ree/RedBull Content Pool

In the battle for fourth, with seven drivers separated by just 22 points, a welcome return for Elfyn Evans on his home event will see the fight become even closer. The home hero, who memorably took the overall victory in Wales back in 2017 finally gets back behind the wheel of the M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC after missing the last three events with a back injury he sustained on Rally Estonia during the WRC’s summer break.

Holding the advantage for fourth going to Wales is Andreas Mikkelsen following a podium finish in Turkey. The Norwegian will be wanting to continue his fine run of form which has seen him finish in the top six on each of the last four events.

Joining Neuville and Mikkelsen at Hyundai for Rally GB is Craig Breen, who makes his second appearance with the team in 2019. The Irishman knows he’s in the lineup to help the team try to claim a maiden Manufacture’s title and also if needed, to help Neuville, but he’ll be hoping he can show what he can do on the event nearest to home in the WRC.

Breen takes part on Wales Rally GB this weekend. Photo Credit: Jaanus Ree/RedBull Content Pool

Just two points in the championship table split Toyota pair Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala – both will be trying to finish strongly this weekend. Meeke, who took second in Wales back in 2015 will be hoping to show the British fans he can be battling at the top of the timesheets.

The WRC entries are rounded out by Teemu Suninen, another man to finish strongly in Turkey after taking fourth overall and Pontus Tidemand, who drives the third M-Sport Fiesta on his fourth event with the team in 2019. After strong results in the past in Wales aboard an R5 Skoda Fabia, the Swede makes his first top-level appearance on the gravel event.

WRC2/WRC2 PRO – Rovanperä Looks to Extend WRC2P Lead, Battle of the Solberg’s in WRC2

Kalle Rovanperä has a big lead in WRC2 PRO going to Wales. Photo Credit: Jaanus Ree/RedBull Content Pool

Kalle Rovanperä visits Wales with a huge 56-point lead over Mads Østberg and Rally Turkey class winner Gus Greensmith as the WRC2 PRO category hits the Welsh forests this weekend.

A four round winning streak earlier this season along with a pair of top three results on both Rally Germany and Rally Turkey has given the young Finn a substantial lead as he looks to seal the title, however Greensmith on his home event in particular will want to stop him from running away with the title.

Two more WRC2 PRO entries are confirmed, with Skoda again running Jan Kopecký while M-Sport give Hayden Paddon an opportunity to impress in the new MK8 Fiesta R5 as he begins his preparation for his WRC appearance on Rally Australia at the end of the year.  The New Zealand driver returns to the WRC paddock after missing out on his planned entry on Rally Finland earlier this year after a huge testing crash damaged his car before the event got underway.

It’s battle of the Solberg’s in WRC2 this weekend. Photo Credit: Petter Solberg Media Office

WRC2 meanwhile sees a clash of father and son for the first time on the world stage as 2003 World Rally Champion Petter and his son Oliver Solberg compete against each other in a pair of Volkswagen Polo R5’s.

Billed as the final stage of Petter’s ‘farewell tour’, he will have title-winning co-driver Phil Mills back alongside him for his last event. The build up to the British event hasn’t been easy for son Oliver either, as the 18-year-old needed to pass his driving test before the beginning of the rally this weekend.

Alongside the father and son duo, the class sees a huge 16 strong entry list. Drivers in Wales include three of the top four in the championship – Kajetan Kajetanowicz, Benito Guerra and Pierre-Louis Loubet, a third Solberg in the form of Petter’s brother Henning, youngster Marco Bulacia Wilkinson and British driver Rhys Yates who switches to a Hyundai i20 R5 for his home round of the championship.

Wales Rally GB also plays host to the final round of the 2019 FIA Junior World Rally Championship where just a single point separates Tom Kristensson and Jan Solans. The duo switched positions after the Swede’s win in Spain and the title could quite possibly go down to who wins the most stages across the four-day event. Third place Denis Rådström is also mathematically still in the running for the title.

The JWRC has ten entries for the last event of the year which includes Brit Tom Williams, who won the WRC3 class here 12 months ago, Enrico Oldrati, Roland Poom, Paraguayan Fabrizio Zaldivar and a trio of American drivers – Sean Johnston, Ryan Booth and Keanna Erickson-Chang.

Wales Rally GB begins on Thursday evening and continues throughout this weekend with daily updates on The Checkered Flag.

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