Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier was able to pace himself through day two of Wales Rally GB, handed a sizeable lead after team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala went off in the opening test this morning.
“It was not an easy day,” Ogier insisted after the final test. “This afternoon was quite slippery and now we were running into the night. I am glad it is over.
“We have a comfortable lead and tomorrow we just have to cross the finish line,” he added.
Ogier and Latvala had been locked in a good fight for the lead on Friday, split by just 6.6 seconds at the end of the leg. However, with Latvala going off in Clocaenog East 1 and losing over 3 minutes after getting stuck in a ditch, it meant Ogier was left to control from the front and he did so without error.
“It was like a totally new rally foe me after the first stage of the day,” Ogier continued in the end of day service in Deeside. “Having seen that my team-mate Jari-Matti had come off the road, we stopped pushing so hard.
“Our goal is now to control our lead of just under a minute until we get to the finish and to set a record of twelve wins in one season with Volkswagen. Sure, we have a comfortable lead, but you can never be certain at the rally in Wales. The conditions are too difficult to take anything for granted.
“I feel sorry for the fans that the exciting duel with Jari-Matti did not last right through to Sunday.”
Meanwhile, M-Sport's Mikko Hirvonen and Citroen duo Mads Ostberg and Kris Meeke were left squabbling over second.
Hirvonen managed to stay ahead this morning, but was then overhauled by Ostberg in SS13, the short 2.06 km Chirk Castle super special. The Norwegian slipped to fourth though before SS14, when he was handed a 10 second penalty for being late to the SS12 time control.
That left Hirvonen and Meeke in the fight to be 'best of the rest', with the Ulsterman getting ahead in SS14, before Hirvonen fought back in SS15. The duo will now go into Sunday split by just 3.4 seconds.
“It is really fantastic being in this battle,” said Hirvonen, who announced his retirement from the WRC in the build-up to the event.
“It is my last day tomorrow so I have nothing to lose and I will be going for it. I am sure it will be emotional once I have finished.”
Ostberg remains fourth, but after his penalty and then tyre issues in SS16, he is now almost 40 seconds adrift of the sister DS3 WRC and only 3.3 seconds up on Hyundai's Thierry Neuville in fifth.
“We had a problem with the tyre on the last stage and I didn't have any spares so I had to take it easy,” Ostberg explained. “It is so important to score manufacturer points [here to ensure Citroen finishes second] so I had to be careful. A podium is looking difficult but we try tomorrow.”
“I was pushing hard all day although visibility was quite bad with the sun first thing this morning and in the afternoon,” Neuville added.
“I missed my braking and lost some seconds a few times this morning after I put in my pace notes that we'd have a lot of grip but there wasn't any!
“Otherwise we were pretty much on the pace. The car felt good on the smooth stages although we have to improve a few things including traction on the rough parts, so still plenty to work on. We pushed hard without taking too many risks in the dark this afternoon although I damaged the extra lights in SS16 which didn't help on the final stage. Overall though we are happy with the day.”
M-Sport pilot and Crash.net
columnist Elfyn Evans lies sixth, 7.9 seconds further back followed by Ott Tanak and Latvala, the latter recovering two places this afternoon after that off in SS9
“A really tough day,” said Latvala. “I lost the motivation after my incident. I have slowly got back into it and I am back in a positive mood. I hope to set some nice stage times tomorrow and end the rally on a positive note.”
Henning Solberg has slipped to ninth, slowed by a puncture in the penultimate stage of the day, with Martin Prokop tenth. Prokop also had issues this afternoon, missing a braking point in SS14 and having to reverse and also picking up a right-rear puncture in SS15.
“I had a puncture on the previous stage, so we will try and push tomorrow. This is rallying so you must accept the bad luck,” Solberg stated.
Hayden Paddon and Robert Kubica are 11th and 12th, with WRC2 class leader Jari Ketomaa 13th.
Ketomaa now leads the WRC2 class by over a minute, with Lorenzo Bertelli inheriting second in the final test, when Bernardo Sousa went off.
Matthew Wilson is third in WRC2, 1.8s up on Tom Cave with Karl Kruuda fifth and Nasser Al-Attiyah sixth, the latter focused on getting to the end to ensure he wins the WRC2 title.
“No more flat out,” Ketomaa said after SS17. “I drove like a grandma on that stage just to keep it on the island. Everything is working well but we need to be careful in order to maintain the lead.”
Wales Rally GB now concludes on Sunday, with six stages on the bill, covering a competitive distance of 46.12 kilometres. SS18, the 10.81 km Brenig 1 test, is due to start at 08.33 hours local time.
Wales Rally GB: Overall standings after Stage 17 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 2hrs 33m 19.3s
2. Mikko Hirvonen
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 58.1s
3. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +01m 01.5s
4. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +01m 41.2s
5. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +01m 44.5s
6. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 52.4s
7. Ott Tanak
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02m 33.3s
8. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +03m 28.1s
9. Henning Solberg
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03m 39.4s
10. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03m 54.5s
11. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +04m 00.2s
12. Robert Kubica
RK M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04m 16.7s
13. Jari Ketomaa
Ford Fiesta R5 +09m 45.3s
14. Lorenzo Bertelli
Ford Fiesta R5 +11m 01.5s
15. Matthew Wilson
Ford Fiesta RRC +11m 18.3s
WRC2 standings after Stage 17 (Top 3):
1. Jari Ketomaa
Ford Fiesta R5 2hrs 43m 04.6s
2. Lorenzo Bertelli
Ford Fiesta R5 +01m 16.2s
3. Matthew Wilson
Ford Fiesta RRC +01m 32.8s
SS2. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC Hit a bank
SS3. Juho Hanninen
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Went off
M denotes Manufacturer entry
* denotes re-started under Rally 2 on Saturday
all times unofficial