Citroen number one driver Sebastien Loeb won both stages this morning on the final day of the Wales Rally GB to increase his overnight advantage from 4.8 seconds to 14.3.
Loeb was 6.7 seconds quicker than Petter Solberg on the opening stage of the day, the 14.78 kilometre-run through Resolfen 1. He then extended his advantage by a further 2.8 seconds in Margam Park 1 to head into service with his cushion more than doubled.
"That was really good, but hard," Loeb said after SS18. "I don't like that stage [Margam Park] so much and at the end it is hard if you lose your rhythm because it is quite tight. You cannot relax."
Solberg, meanwhile, who was second in both tests, revealed that he had a lucky escape in Margam Park: "We went through the splash very hard and hit a wheel on a rock - front left I think. The tyre is okay, but we did hit it hard. I am trying my best and that is all I can do. These are very bad conditions but you have to keep the pressure on," said the Norwegian.
Next up is Mikko Hirvonen, although he is now only just ahead of his BP Ford Abu Dhabi team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala. Latvala cut the gap from 8.6 seconds to 3.4 this morning, despite his steering column coming loose mid-day through SS17. Jari-Matti needs to take third if he is to claims the runners-up spot in the championship: "That was as fast as I could go. I might have a word with Mikko at lunchtime," Latvala said post-SS18.
Further back there was no change in the top ten, with Dani Sordo now 30 seconds adrift of the fight for the final place on the podium, followed by Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg – four minutes further back – and then Matt Wilson and F1 2007 world champion, Kimi Raikkonen.
Mads Ostberg and Andreas Mikkelsen complete the top ten, the latter easily on course for the SWRC win, more than 5 minutes up on Xavier Pons. Jari Ketomaa, who had been second in the SWRC, rolled out in SS17. It was only a light off, but he was unable to get back on the stage. Craig Breen is set for the final place on the SWRC podium. Second for Pons incidentally would be enough to secure him the SWRC title.
In the PWRC, Ott Tanak still leads, with Armindo Araujo second – en-route
to his second successive Production title - and Hayden Paddon third. Martin Semerad stopped in the stage and retired.
There were no other notable retirements, although Ken Block did re-start this morning under the SupeRally. He was twelfth in SS17 and seventh in SS18. Block is currently 22nd overall in his Monster WRT-run Ford Focus RS WRC.
The event now concludes with a repeat run through Resolfen and Margam Park. SS19, Resolfen 2, begins at 12.12 hours. The event is due to finish in Cardiff at 15.25 [all times local].
Wales Rally GB: Overall standings after Stage 18 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 2hours 53min 28.0secs
2. Petter Solberg
PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC +00mins 14.3secs
3. Mikko Hirvonen
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +01mins 45.3secs
4. Jari-Matti Latvala
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +01mins 48.7secs
5. Dani Sordo
Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +02mins 19.6secs
6. Henning Solberg
Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus RS WRC +06mins 18.3secs
7. Matthew Wilson
Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC +08mins 05.1secs
8. Kimi Raikkonen
Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +09mins 54.6secs
9. Mads Ostberg
Subaru Impreza WRC +11mins 58.0secs
10. Andreas Mikkelsen
Skoda Fabia S2000 +12mins 40.5secs
SWRC Standings after Stage 18 (Top 3):
1. Andreas Mikkelsen
Skoda Fabia S2000 3hours 06mins 08.5secs
2. Xavier Pons
Ford Fiesta S2000 +05mins 36.6secs
3. Craig Breen
Ford Fiesta S2000 +06mins 19.9secs
PWRC Standings after Stage 18 (Top 3):
1. Ott Tanak
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 3hours 14mins 28.2secs
2. Armindo Araujo
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +03mins 17.2secs
3. Hayden Paddon
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +04mins 55.6secs
SS1. Steve Lancaster
Subaru Impreza STi N15 Personal
SS2. Bernardo Sousa
Ford Fiesta S2000 Mechanical
SS2. Rui Wang
Subaru Impreza STi Mechanical
SS8. Sebastien Ogier
Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC Crashed
SS9. Eyvind Brynildsen
Skoda Fabia S2000 Mechanical
SS12/SS13. Ken Block
Monster WRT Ford Focus WRC Mechanical
SS17. Jari Ketomaa
Ford Fiesta S2000 Crashed
SS18. Martin Semerad
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX Crashed
* denotes re-started under SupeRally.
all times unofficial