World Championship leader Ott Tänak snatched the lead of Wales Rally GB (3-6 October) from the clutches of team-mate Kris Meeke, as the treacherous north Wales forests threw everything it could at the best drivers in the FIA World Rally Championship during the event’s first full day.
The Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT pilot overhauled the Ulsterman on the final test of the day, to head into the aptly named ‘Super Saturday’ with a lead of just 3.4 seconds over the World Rally Championship (WRC) title-chasing Seb Ogier (Citroen C3 WRC). Meeke’s time on the final test dropped him to third overall less than a second behind the six-time World Champion.
Meeke achieved a 2.1 second lead over the chasing pack after last night’s opening stage spectacular at the Dayinsure Oulton Park Stage. That lead extended as far as 9.2 seconds during today, before his fall down the leader board as the darkness drew in.
Nine gruelling stages made up Friday’s leg which included Rally GB classics such as Penmachno and Dyfnant. A wet start to the day would make conditions tough going for the crews as the mud strewn stages offered little grip for the high-powered machinery.
Fastest out of the blocks on the opening Elsi test was Welshman Elfyn Evans, storming to a time 2.2 seconds faster than anyone else.
Sadly the 2017 winner would be hampered with broken suspension after impact with a rock on the following test dropping him out of the top ten. Cheered on by his local fans, the Welshman charged back to eighth to end the day in striking distance of the podium.
This year’s Wales Rally GB has provided a thrilling backdrop to the WRC title fight which sees a tussle for the prestigious crown between Tänak, Ogier and Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville. Currently in the pound seat, the Estonian headed to the event with a 17-point lead over Ogier and is primed to extend that gap in Wales.
However, standing in his way is the longest leg of the rally which houses seven stages and a monstrous 93 miles of speed tests in mid-Wales. Dyfi, Myherin and Sweet Lamb all feature a repeat loop before an all-new fan-friendly Colwyn Bay stage on the seafront rounds off the day in the fading daylight.
“It’s been an enjoyable but difficult day out there” said Tanak.
“Of course, you enjoy it when the car is performing and you are able to set some good times but from the other side, when conditions are like we normally have in Wales, it’s been a challenging day. There have been a lot of grip changes and it’s been a big job to keep the pace and also keep the car on the road.”
Early hopes for a Welsh winner faded with Evans’ excursion and double British Rally Champion Matt Edwards was another retirement with a damaged suspension in Penmachno.
The lure of the World Championship crews at full flight in the forests drew record crowds to the stages as fans poured in to watch their heroes in action. Car parks became full from the early hours as eager spectators strived for a prime viewing location to catch a glimpse of the four-wheel-drive turbocharged machines.
Sadly, the first pass of the Aberhirnant stage would be cancelled by rally organisers as spectators in an unsafe position returned after being requested to move, and with safety a number one priority, the stage was stopped.
After tomorrow’s demanding day in mid Wales, Sunday delivers more of a sprint as Alwen, Brenig and the Great Orme are on offer ahead of the Wolf Brenig Power Stage, the final stage before the Ceremonial Finish on Llandudno Promenade from around 13:30.
Tickets are still available via the ticket office in Venue Cymru at Llandudno or at the gate of every stage.
The four-day World Rally Pass is the all-inclusive ticket for fans. It provides access to all the individual Special Stages and is priced at £123 for adults and comes with a desirable hard card and lanyard plus an event programme valued at £9.
Forest Passes offer a similar level of flexibility as the World Rally Pass but for individual days of the event. Again, they include an official programme and can be purchased in advance for just £38 for Friday and Sunday and £42 for Super Saturday – a considerable saving on Single Stage tickets costing £35 on the gate for all the forest tests or £20 for Colwyn Bay and the Great Orme – all of which include a free programme.
Tickets for the family-friendly Saturday stage in Colwyn Bay are available now for £20 with, as for all stages, free admittance offered for accompanied children aged 15 and under. Full ticket information can be found on the WalesRallyGB.com website.
2019 WALES RALLY GB LEADERBOARD
(AFTER 10 OF 22 SPECIAL STAGES)
1. Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja – Toyota Yaris WRC
2. Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia – Citroen C3 WRC +3.4sec
3. Kris Meeke/Seb Marshall – Toyota Yaris WRC +3.6sec
4. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul – Hyundai i20 WRC +8.4sec
5. Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger – Hyundai i20 WRC +25.7sec
6. Craig Breen/Paul Nagle – Hyundai i20 WRC +33.5sec
7. Teemu Suninen/Jarmo Lehtinen – Ford Fiesta WRC +37.4sec
8. Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin – Ford Fiesta WRC +51.8sec
9. Pontus Tidemand/Ola Floene – Ford Fiesta WRC +2.56.6m
10. Jan Kopecky/Jan Hlousek – Skoda Fabia R5 +4.01.1m
2019 WALES RALLY GB ROUTE
Saturday 5 October:
08:06 SS11: Dyfi 1
10:08 SS12: Myherin 1
11:02 SS13: Sweet Lamb Hafren 1
12:40 Regroup: Newtown
14:08 SS14: Myherin 2
15:02 SS15: Sweet Lamb Hafren 2
16:19 SS16: Dyfi 2
19:13 SS17: Colwyn Bay
19:49 Service and overnight: Llandudno
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