Jari-Matti Latvala further consolidated his lead on Wales Rally GB this morning, although behind the battle for second has intensified with Sebastien Loeb overhauling the second Ford of Petter Solberg.
Latvala finished the second leg last night with a 24.5 second cushion and he started with the second best time in the opening test today, Port Talbot 1, 2.7 seconds off Loeb. The Finn was then second again in Rheola 1, this time just 0.6 seconds off Seb, before he completed the loop by winning SS16, the 15.33 km Walters Arena 1 test. He now heads back to Cardiff for service with his advantage up to 29.3 seconds.
"I had a good feeling in that test and it's also good practice for the Power Stage [to have been fastest in Walters Arena]," Latvala told the official WRC site. "I'm happy because on the first two stages this morning I was losing a bit of time and was maybe too relaxed, but now the feeling is coming."
Loeb meanwhile edged ahead of 'Hollywood' in SS15, when he set the pace for the second stage in succession. The Frenchman now lies 2.9 seconds ahead: "We are in front of Petter but it's not finished," Loeb warned. "We have to see how it goes this afternoon."
Solberg had a bit of a scruffy morning and could do no better than fourth in all three tests. He also had a bit of scare in Walters Arena 1 and finished with the front-left tyre slightly off the rim after a heavy landing: "I heard it happen when I landed over a jump. We lost a little bit but got some time back at the end. We just have to keep on pushing and see if we can do something in the service," said the Norwegian.
Behind, Mads Ostberg continues to hold fourth, although engine problems have slowed the Adapta Ford WRT man.
Mikko Hirvonen remains fifth and in the drier conditions he felt more comfortable in his Citroen DS3 WRC car, posting the third best times in all three stages, no doubt a relief as he has been off the pace all weekend.
Ott Tanak rounds out the top six, despite a spin in SS14, where team-mate, Evgeny Novikov also had a problem and lost over 30 seconds when he went off the road. The Russian however, is still seventh overall.
Thierry Neuville, Matthew Wilson and Martin Prokop are next up in positions 7 through to 10, although Wilson had been struggling with a misfire. Of the rest, Chris Atkinson lies eleventh and he also had issues, with a gearbox problem hampering his hopes of trying to get into the top-ten.
In the SWRC, Craig Breen is now comfortably out front, over 2 minutes up on Tom Cave. Yazeed Al-Rajhi, who had been 0.1 seconds in front of Breen after SS13, has dropped to third after picking up a 5 minute penalty for speeding on a road section. A report from the police said he was doing 40mph in a 30mph zone on the B4236. The stewards confirmed the penalty at 18.40 hours last night. Novikov was also reported to have been doing 40mph on the same stretch of road, and he was fined 250 Euros.
Wales Rally GB now concludes this afternoon, with a repeat run through this morning's three stages. SS17, Port Talbot 2, is due to start at 12.07 hours local time.
Wales Rally GB: Overall standings after Stage 16 (Top 10):
1. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC 2hours 40mins 55.8secs
2. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 29.3secs
3. Petter Solberg
Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 32.2secs
4. Mads Ostberg
Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 04.3secs
5. Mikko Hirvonen
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +01mins 27.3secs
6. Ott Tanak
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 24.8secs
7. Evgeny Novikov
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 08.6secs
8. Thierry Neuville
Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC +03mins 57.7secs
9. Matthew Wilson
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +05mins 31.6secs
10. Martin Prokop
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +06mins 23.2secs
11. Chris Atkinson
WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +07mins 32.7secs
12. Sebastien Ogier
VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +08mins 30.0secs
13. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC +08mins 37.9secs
14. Craig Breen
Ford Fiesta S2000 +12mins 51.7secs
15. Tom Cave
Proton Satria Neo S2000 +15mins 15.5secs
SWRC standings after Stage 16 - Top 3:
1. Craig Breen
Ford Fiesta S2000 2hours 53mins 47.5secs
2. Tom Cave
Proton Satria Neo S2000 +02mins 23.8secs
3. Yazeed Al-Rajhi
Ford Fiesta S2000 +04mins 52.8secs
SS2. Per-Gunnar Andersson
Proton Satria Neo S2000 Lost a wheel
SS2/3. Alastair Fisher
Ford Fiesta S2000 Suspension damage
SS3/SS4. Haydon Paddon
Skoda Fabia S2000 Mechanical
SS7. Jannie Habig
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC Went off the road
* denotes re-started under Rally 2
all times unofficial