M-Sport Ford driver Sebastien Ogier holds a narrow Wales Rally GB lead overnight on Saturday, after Ott Tanak’s Toyota retired from a long-term lead in the afternoon loop.
Tanak was out two tests into the four-stage afternoon loop, in Sweet Lamb Hafren, with suspected radiator failure, turning a close battle for second into one for the lead of the rally.
Ogier inherited the position, but on the next test, Tanak’s teammate Jari-Matti Latvala immediately cut the M-Sport driver’s lead from 5.5s to 2.9s in the 19-kilometre Dyfi test.
But in the shorter Gartheiniog stage to end the day, Latvala stalled in a downhill hairpin as he took second gear instead of first.
“It’s not over yet, that’s one mistake and one set back but tomorrow is another day,” said Latvala of his stall.
Ogier’s lead rose to 4.4 seconds with just Sunday’s five stages remaining and 13.5 seconds separating the top four.
With Tanak out, if the positions remain the same Ogier would cut Thierry Neuville’s series lead to just two points, with an additional five points also on offer for the power stage on Sunday.
Esapekka Lappi claimed during the loop that he was struggling to match Ogier’s pace, but holds third overnight, just 1.7s ahead of the highest-placed Citroen of Craig Breen and 7.4s behind Latvala in second.
Breen, on the closest event to his hometown of Waterford, Ireland, went second quickest on the last stage of the day to momentarily quash Andreas Mikkelsen’s momentum as he attempted to charge through the order.
Mikkelsen struggled for pace on Friday but has now found form, taking two fastest times of the four on offer on Saturday afternoon in his Hyundai.
It was enough for Mikkelsen to leap teammate Hayden Paddon in the order for sixth, but not quite enough to overcome Mads Ostberg’s Citroen which holds fifth behind Breen after another consistent afternoon on an event he enjoys.
Paddon lies 8.9 seconds behind Mikkelsen and is still in touch, as Thierry Neuville lies eighth in the third Hyundai after a trip into a ditch on SS11 on Saturday morning – which he accepted responsibility for – relegated him from second down the order.
Kalle Rovanpera continued his crushing dominance of the WRC2 field. Despite carrying a second spare wheel for safety on Friday – with most of his rivals taking one spare – he built a lead of a minute, which he sustained through Saturday to end the day 1m03.1s ahead of reigning series champion Pontus Tidemand.