The World Rally Championship roared back into life from October 3rd to October 6th with the championship arriving in North Wales for Wales Rally GB. This year the Rally sees a change, being based out of the seaside town of Llandudno as opposed to its traditional base out of Deeside. The scrutineering for the event took on a unique format, with the Workshops of North Wales Honda hosting scrutineering and the cars being pushed through the showroom, allowing fans a unique opportunity to get up close to the cars and drivers.
Thursday evening would saw the first competitive running, with Oulton Park hosting the opening stage of the event. Kris Meeke paced the opening test in the darkness around Oulton Park, closely followed by Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai. The big surprise came from 2003 champion Petter Solberg, competing this weekend in his last international event. Solberg managed to place in third ahead of Sebastien Ogier & Andreas Mikkelsen…..But doing so in an R5 Class Polo, with smaller less grippy tyres, brakes, simpler suspension, very little aero and 100bhp less along with a simpler four wheel drive system. Solberg, putting it simply had slain a giant of the sport round Oulton Park.
Friday morning started in earnest under atypically grey welsh skies and light drizzly rain, with the first runs through Penmachno & Elsi packed to capacity.
Kris Meeke set about consolidating his lead throughout the Friday, however it was a losing battle as Meeke was unable to set a fastest stage time throughout the Friday, seeing his lead being steadily eroded by the chasing Tanak, Ogier & Neuville. However, Meeke was able to hold onto his lead until the death of Friday evening due to setting a consistent and quick pace. It was Ott Tanak & Sebastien Ogier who just about leapfrogged Meeke on the final run through Aberhirnant in the darkenss.
The day was not without drama though; the first run through Aberhirnant, north of Bala was cancelled. This was due to a large crowd of spectators who had walked into the stage, standing inches away from the edge of the stage on a flat out left hand kink. The officials had already asked the crowd of spectators to move, but the cancellation took place once the spectators returned to the same spot.
It wasn’t the only cancellation of the day, the afternoon run through Penmachno forest saw Jari-Matti Latvala crash spectacularly after running wide over a crest, bouncing off a bank and rolling his car over and into a tree. The position of the vehicle on the stage, along with the resultant delay caused the stage to be cancelled, the second of the day. As Friday drew to a close, Ott Tanak held a slight lead from Sebastien Ogier with Kris Meeke in third, Thierry Neuville in fourth & Andreas Mikkelsen in fifth place.
Saturday was the longest day of the event, with the traditional leg through the stages of Mid Wales on classic stages such as Sweet Lamb, Myherin & Dyfnant. The rain continued to soak the stages, making conditions increasingly difficult with grip levels constantly fluctuating throughout the day. The morning saw a resurgent Elfyn Evans win the opening three stages of the morning, Evans had lost time on Friday after clipping a bank and doing some minor damage to the suspension of his Ford Fiesta, dropping 45 second. The fearsome stages though bore their teeth as the day went on, showing why their reputation is deserved.
First to come unstuck, but with a very lucky escape was Seb Ogier, who bounced of a bank due to a pace note mix-up, Ogier barely lost any time but it was stark reminder that fortunes can change at a moment’s notice. Ott Tanak lost the rear bumper on his Toyota Yaris and the resultant noise meant Tanak struggled to hear his pace notes for the rest of the day. Craig Breen rolled his car spectacularly in the early afternoon after carrying far too much speed into a left hander, flying off the stage and barrel rolling several times. Breen was able to continue, although with a broken windscreen which cost him time.
Teemu Sunninen was the big loser on Saturday. Sunninen slid into a bank, but bounced over hit and bounced off a rock, damaging the front splitter & bumper on his Fiesta and picking up a puncture, he was lucky not to accrue any more damage but still lost two minutes as a result. As the day came to a close and the top drivers trading times throughout the day, it was Ott Tanak who held a scant 11 second lead from Thierry Neuville, who had leapfrogged Meeke & Ogier and had the bit between his teeth in pursuit of Tanak. Ogier was third with Meeke running consistently but slowly slipping back from the big three in fourth. Andreas Mikkelsen held onto fifth but a recovering Elfyn Evans was just 4.5 seconds adrift in sixth place.
The final day of the Rally saw a return to North Wales and the traditional Power Stage around Llyn Brenig, a run around the adjacent Alwen Forest & a blast around the asphalt ribbon around the Great Orme.
Tanak drew first blood in the morning, taking the fastest time in the first run through Alwen, it was clear that no one was going to saving their tyres for the Power Stage with the top 6 cars so close to one another. Elfyn Evans continued his fight back setting the fastest time through the first run around Llyn Brenig, steadily gaining more time and overhauling Andreas Mikklesen in the process.
The day would see an unfortunate turn for fans that drove to Llandudno for the Great Orme stage. Unfortunately, due to the rough sea conditions, the required FIA diving team were unable to get into position to the stage, despite the small matter of a 100+ foot drop from the stage to the sea below; as a result the stage was cancelled.
The teams moved onto the final run through Alwen before the Power Stage at Brenig, which saw Elfyn Evans go quickest once again. The Power Stage delighted fans, with an all-out battle between the top five, a slight mistake would plunge a driver down the order. Despite a furious battle, it was Tanak who took victory in the power stage taking the full 5 bonus points and the Rally victory with it.
The next round of the Championship takes place on the high speed asphalt around Catalunya in Spain. The championship battle has come down to Ott Tanak and Sebastien Ogier, if Tanak scores 3 or more points than Ogier at Catalunya, then Tanak will be champion elect. Ogier will need Tanak to finish well down the order and finish in the top three to keep his championship alive to the final round. Neuville at this point would need to claim back to back victories in Spain & Australia and for Ogier & Tanak to finish out of the point to win the championship, something which is very unlikely to happen.
Rally Catalunya will take place October 25th to October 27th.
- Ott Tanak
- Thierry Neuville
- Sebastien Ogier
- Kris Meeke
- Elfyn Evans
- Ott Tanak – 240 points
- Sebastien Ogier – 212 points
- Thierry Neuville – 199 points
- Andreas Mikkelsen – 102 points
- Kris Meeke – 98 points