Sébastien Ogier and Ott Tänak engaged in an enthralling cat-and-mouse duel for glory on the second leg of Dayinsure Wales Rally GB on Saturday, as some of the most classic stages in international rallying played host to a superb crowd-pleasing spectacle and Cholmondeley Castle joined the schedule to tremendously popular acclaim.
Having set the pace from the outset in the demanding Welsh forests, Ogier and Tänak departed the Deeside Rally Village on Saturday morning separated by 37.3 seconds in the overall classification – and their scrap for supremacy would ebb and flow all day long as the stages came as thick-and-fast as the swings in momentum.
Tänak drew first blood by shaving 1.5 seconds off his rival’s advantage on the opening Pantperthog speed test, with a damp surface and low cloud and mist further complicating the challenge of a stage that had not been used in anger for almost two decades. The Estonian confessed to driving ‘a bit like a chicken’ at times on the fog-shrouded, ultra-quick and maximum commitment Dyfi 1 that followed, enabling Ogier to immediately hit back – but their battle was far from over.
Unwilling to lay down without a fight and seemingly ignoring the disadvantage of running further back on the road, Tänak went on a charge, tallying three consecutive fastest times on the second passes through Pantperthog, Dyfi and Gartheiniog, the latter being one of the few stages that remained unchanged from 2015.
On Gartheiniog 2 in particular, the DMACK World Rally Team ace was in stunning form as he outpaced all of his rivals to the tune of some 5.7 seconds to close to within 25 seconds of Ogier and keep the pressure on, with his third consecutive stage win levelling the score at six apiece – but the day was not done yet.
On the blisteringly quick Aberhirnant, the Volkswagen Motorsport star showed just why he is a four-time world champion with a resounding response that stopped Tänak’s burgeoning momentum firmly in its tracks, as he made the most of running first-on-the-road in the muddy and slippery conditions to re-extend his overall lead by seven seconds with a commanding performance. He concluded proceedings 33.8 seconds to the good.
“We knew Ott’s tyres would be better in these conditions, so it’s good to still have a decent gap going into tomorrow – especially as we won’t have the advantage of road position anymore and Ott is not the kind of person who gives up easily, and I don’t want to have to take too many risks,” mused Ogier.
“This rally has been a lot of fun so far and I was impressed by how many people there were at Cholmondeley today – it’s a fantastic backdrop for a stage. I’m really enjoying the weekend – and of course, you always enjoy it a little bit more when you’re fighting to win. Our main target tomorrow is to seal the Manufacturers’ title for Volkswagen – and if we can do that with a victory, all the better.”
“I tried to make Seb’s life as hard as possible today, but his road position definitely gave him an advantage on Aberhirnant and I had no answer to him there,” added Tänak. “Still, we’re closer than we were this time yesterday and I’ve really been enjoying myself out there. The car and tyres are working very well, and whilst winning may no longer be the most realistic of goals, we will certainly keep pushing!”
Behind the leading duo, Thierry Neuville was the day’s other winner as he mastered Gartheiniog 1, with the Belgian enjoying a consistently solid run to inch away from Hyundai team-mate Hayden Paddon in the tussle over third and strengthen his hold on the final podium place.
“I think we can be very satisfied with today,” Neuville opined. “We have opened up the gap between ourselves and Hayden, and I don’t think we could have asked for very much more than that. Even though tomorrow is a much shorter day, a lot can still happen on this event and as we don’t tend to use team orders at Hyundai, I think you can expect a flat-out fight to the finish!”
Having begun Saturday right on the Hyundai pair’s heels, home hero Kris Meeke struggled with an unfavourable road position and a couple of slow punctures on his Citroën DS3 WRC as he conceded more than half-a-minute to his i20 WRC rivals, leaving him in a lonely fifth position overall.
Next up are Dani Sordo and Mads Østberg – who picked up a ten-second penalty for leaving service one minute late in his M-Sport World Rally Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC – although both are being reeled in by the recovering Jari-Matti Latvala in the second VW Polo R WRC, after the Finn’s podium hopes were scuppered by driveshaft failure yesterday. Frenchmen Stéphane Lefebvre and Eric Camilli round out the overnight top ten.
Andreas Mikkelsen was crowned ‘king of the castle’ as he tamed the Dayinsure Donut in front of a staggering 10,000 spectators at the hugely popular Cholmondeley Castle RallyFest Stage in association with GreenThumb – a rare bright spot in a tough rally for the talented young Norwegian.
More luckless still, however, was Meeke’s Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team stablemate Craig Breen, who was ultimately unable to restart following his Friday accident.
Leading Welshman Osian Pryce remains sixth in the WRC2 category despite losing time to power steering failure, while Tony Jardine and Olympic gold medallist Amy Williams sit 42nd outright in a Mitsubishi Evo. In the supporting WRGB National Rally, Bruce McCombie continues to lead in his Mitsubishi Evo, with multiple British Rally Champion Jimmy McRae 16th in a Vauxhall Magnum.
Sunday is the final day of Dayinsure Wales Rally GB, comprising six speed tests totalling 32 competitive miles – with the closing Brenig Power Stage awarding bonus points to its three fastest crews.