Sebastien Ogier won four of today's six speed tests in the second and longest leg of Wales Rally GB to build a 20.1sec lead over team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala.
After a commanding win in the opening Hafren test by almost 10sec, the Frenchman was fastest on all three afternoon tests in a Volkswagen Polo R. Thierry Neuville, second after the opening leg in a Ford Fiesta RS, could not live with the pair and is 62.6sec off the lead in third.
The dank forests of mid-Wales became increasingly difficult as the day progressed. A slimy layer of mud was cleaned during the first pass, to leave wet and polished stones on the surface when they were repeated.
“It was more slippery this afternoon than this morning and it was hard to stay on the driving line. But we used the lines quite well,” explained Ogier, who had the benefit of following Latvala in the tests and seeing his braking points.
Latvala made a cautious start but ended the morning by winning his favourite Myherin test. His confidence surged and a softer set-up on his Polo R encouraged him further.
“I really pushed hard and there wasn’t much left to give. I found it hard at the beginning where it was very slippery but I got a good feeling as things went on. Maybe I just took too long to wake up,” said Latvala, who almost pushed too hard and was fortunate to escape a high-speed moment in the final stage.
Neuville followed his usual strategy of perfecting his pace notes in the morning loop, but admitted there was no more speed to find this afternoon.
“I did my best and I think I drove very well. But there was so little traction on the slippery stones,” explained the Belgian.
Qatar M-Sport Fiesta RS team-mates Mads Ostberg and Evgeny Novikov are split by just 3.7sec in fourth and fifth, but they are more than 90sec off the lead. Ostberg regretted altering his car’s set-up this afternoon while Novikov lived with a daylong problem affecting the launch control at stage starts.
Andreas Mikkelsen is sixth in another Polo R, just 1.1sec behind Novikov, with Martin Prokop’s Fiesta RS in seventh, more than three minutes adrift. Leading WRC 2 runners Elfyn Evans and Mark Higgins are eighth and tenth, with Dani Sordo sandwiched between them in ninth.
Sordo, saddled with a five minute penalty before last night’s start, was fastest on the second stage and climbed 36 places in his Citroen DS3.
Robert Kubica rolled his DS3 out of seventh in the opening stage and Mikko Hirvonen compounded a disastrous rally for the factory Citroen squad by rolling his similar car out of fourth two stages later after a pace note error.
Drivers restart tomorrow at 06.00 and face two identical loops of two tests in Dovey Forest. After the longest stage of the day in Dyfnant, crews return to Deeside via two passes of the short Chirk Castle test. It all adds up to 98.42km of action.