Sebastien Ogier will restart today’s final leg with a 58.1sec advantage in his Volkswagen Polo R after any pressure evaporated when team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala slid into a ditch in the opening stage and lost more than three minutes.
Latvala’s mistake left Mikko Hirvonen, Kris Meeke and Mads Østberg in a titanic fight for second. They swapped places in virtually every stage before Hirvonen claimed second in a Ford Fiesta RS, 3.4sec clear of Kris Meeke’s Citroen DS3.
Conditions in the north Wales forests were again muddy, especially this afternoon as the polished surface made the roads extremely slippery, and Ogier took no risks. He set only two top six times over nine special stages, covering 113.74km.
“It wasn’t an easy day because the roads were very slippery, especially in the final stage in the dark,” said Ogier. “I have a comfortable lead so tomorrow I just need to drive the same way and try to cross the finish line.”
The fight for second lit up the forests. Hirvonen had control initially before Østberg overhauled both the Finn and Meeke to hold the advantage at the mid-leg service, when the trio were split by 1.4sec.
However, Østberg received a 10sec penalty for checking in late at a time control and a delaminated tyre cost 15sec as he slipped to fourth. Hirvonen and Meeke twice traded positions before Hirvonen sealed the overnight advantage in the final test.
Thierry Neuville took advantage of Østberg’s woes to close in fifth, despite hitting a chicane in the penultimate stage and knocking his light pod out of alignment. The gap between them is 3.3sec.
Road opener Andreas Mikkelsen restarted after retiring yesterday with broken suspension and enjoyed the best of the conditions as the roads deteriorated with every car. He won four stages this morning and added a fifth this afternoon despite a faulty intercom.
Tomorrow’s final leg comprises six short stages covering 46.12km. The last live TV Power Stage offers bonus points to the fastest three drivers.