Estonian ace Ott Tänak extended his lead of Wales Rally GB (3-6 October) to 11 seconds on the toughest leg of the event – the aptly named ‘Super Saturday’.
The Toyota Yaris WRC driver battled through the day’s classic fast and flowing stages in the forests of mid Wales to head into the final leg with his fellow World Rally Championship title protagonists in hot pursuit.
Tänak adapted well to the inclement conditions to ensure the fight for the lead of the rally would swing in his favour, doubling his slender overnight advantage over title rival Thierry Neuville. The hard-charging Hyundai i20 WRC driver threw his hat into the ring from the opening stage of the day, first overhauling Toyota pilot Kris Meeke and then six-time World Rally champion Sebastien Ogier.
The Citroen C3 WRC pilot admitted he was ‘right on the limit’ and ‘couldn’t do any more’ as he dropped from the second spot he held overnight, whilst in contrast, Neuville bolstered his chances of remaining in the three-way battle for the WRC title.
With the trio of title adversaries now locked in a titanic battle in the podium positions, tomorrow’s finale is likely to play a major role in the destination of this year’s WRC crown.
Tänak currently leads the title chase but knows his chances of extending his advantage are going to be hard-fought despite having edged closer to what would be his first Wales Rally GB win.
“It’s been a very demanding day and probably even tougher than yesterday,” he admitted. “The surfaces were really slippery and the pace of the other drivers has made it even harder. For sure, we need to keep good speed on tomorrow’s shorter stages.”
Meanwhile, enthusiastic Welsh fans had plenty to cheer about during the morning loop as Elfyn Evans was a man on a mission, winning the day’s first three stages after the set-back of yesterday which dropped him to 12th place. Evans and co-driver Scott Martin blitzed the opposition in their Ford Fiesta WRC to storm up the leader-board to sixth place.
Outside of the WRC, fellow countrymen and 2019 British Rally Championship runner-up Tom Cave was another driver to recover from a difficult opening day, taking his Hyundai i20 R5 to 13th overall and fourth in the RC2 class.
The longest day of the event attracted record crowds with car parks filling from dawn.
A town centre halt in Newtown offered the public the opportunity to get up close and personal with the WRC stars and their mud-splattered machines before crews returned to the forests for the afternoon’s action. A floodlit display of raw speed and skill at the all-new family-friendly Colwyn Bay seafront stage rounded out a day.
The final chapter of the dramatic Wales Rally GB is a shorter affair but will undoubtedly prove to be just as thrilling. The route sees the world’s best drivers and the sport’s fastest cars heading into the north Wales forests of Alwen and Brenig, plus a blast around the renowned Great Orme promontory.
The Wolf Power Stage grand finale provides the opportunity for additional WRC points ahead of the Ceremonial Finish on Llandudno Promenade from around 13:30.
On-the-gate tickets are still available for Sunday’s climax with Single Stage tickets costing £35 for the remaining forest speeds tests or £20 for the Great Orme, subject to availability.
All stages offer free admittance for accompanied children aged 15 and under. Full ticket information can be found on the WalesRallyGB.com website.
Those attending the final day stages should arrive early to avoid disappointment.
2019 WALES RALLY GB LEADERBOARD
(AFTER 17 OF 22 SPECIAL STAGES)
1. Ott Tänak /Martin Järveoja – Toyota Yaris WRC
2. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul – Hyundai i20 WRC +11.0sec
3. Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia – Citroen C3 WRC +17.3sec
4. Kris Meeke/Seb Marshall – Toyota Yaris WRC +26.5sec
5. Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger – Hyundai i20 WRC +46.9sec
6. Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin – Ford Fiesta WRC +51.4sec
7. Teemu Suninen/Jarmo Lehtinen – Ford Fiesta WRC +3m.07.9sec
8. Pontus Tidemand/Ola Floene – Ford Fiesta WRC +4m59.6sec
9. Craig Breen/Paul Nagle – Hyundai i20 WRC +9m16.0sec
10. Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen – Skoda Fabia R5 +9m30.2sec
2019 WALES RALLY GB ROUTE
Sunday 6 October:
07:28 SS18: Alwen 1
08:08 SS19: Brenig 1
09:26 SS20: Great Orme
11:10 SS21: Alwen 2
12:18 SS22: Brenig 2 (Wolf Power Stage)
13:32 Ceremonial Finish: The Promenade, Llandudno
*all times for first car and subject to change