After another quick and consistent performance in the Welsh forests today, Subaru's Richard Burns remains on course to make history as the first Englishman ever to clinch the FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers. With just four more stages left to run tomorrow, Marcus Gronholm leads the event and Burns is second, but Richard is under no pressure to win the rally, instead he needs to finish anywhere in the top four to claim the title.
Two of today's stages were cancelled following an accident on SS11 when Carlos Sainz crashed and a number of spectators were injured. Thankfully none of those involved sustained serious injuries, but Carlos decided to retire, and in the circumstances Ford also withdrew the remaining works Focus of fifth-placed Mark Higgins.
Subaru's Toshihiro Arai and new co-driver Tony Sircombe continued to gain experience in the testing conditions and after another reliable run they hold a top-ten position overnight.
"As far as my performance today is concerned, we've had three good stages. We kept our concentration with a sustained speed, which has been good enough. We've got four big stages tomorrow that will be tough and rough and the double usage will make it difficult. I'll keep concentrating on the job in hand and fingers crossed for tomorrow. But it doesn't matter who you are, driver, team member or spectator, it's always terrible to hear of an accident like the one that occurred earlier today. My thoughts are with those people hurt in the accident, and I just hope that everybody makes a speedy recovery."
"We've got four long wet stages tomorrow in foggy Wales - anything can happen. We've got the luxury of not having to push, and can concentrate on concentrating! 10 past 4 on Sunday has been the target for a long time now and it can't come quickly enough."
"It's been a disappointing day as we have only had the chance to drive two real Welsh stages, although in the circumstances the organisers obviously made the right decision. I wasn't entirely happy with the feel of the car on the first stage of the day (SS9) but things had improved a little for the second one. It's a tough rally but the experience I am getting is very useful and I am looking forward to tomorrow's final leg."
SS9 08:55 Resolfen ((46.45km))
There was an anxious start to the day for Richard Burns, when his car failed to start at the overnight parc-ferme. Richard and Robert pushed the car through the time-control and upon discovering a damp spark plug changed all four for the spare set carried on board. The car started and they made first service on time. In foggy conditions the longest test of the rally enabled Gronholm to stretch his lead at the top of the overall leaderboard. The Finn pulled another 20 seconds ahead of Burns, who was fourth through the stage to lead the rally by 57 seconds. Rovanpera was second fastest, with Sainz third. Didier Auriol had a lucky escape when he braked too late for a left-hand corner. His car left the road and landed in a ditch, luckily there were enough spectators around to push him back on, but the mistake cost more than three minutes and dropped him from fourth to tenth overall. Freddy Loix lost third and fifth gears in the stage, and was late leaving the following service after mechanics swapped cogs in his gearbox. He collected two minutes and 50 seconds of penalty time.
Fastest Time : Gronholm (Peugeot) 25:28.1
SS10 11:23 Margam 1 ((27.93km))
Another fastest time from Gronholm - this time with Burns in hot pursuit over the foggy 27km stage. Sainz was third and Colin McRae's younger brother Alister in a Hyundai fourth. On his first outing in a WRC specification Ford Focus, 30-year-old British driver Mark Higgins was fifth quickest. Top privateer Neil Wearden hit a gate-post in his Allstars-prepared Subaru Impreza WRC and suffered steering damage. After an excellent performance to that point, and having climbed to eleventh overall, he was unable to continue and retired on the spot. Freddy Loix still had gearbox problems and at the following service his mechanics had another look at the problem, he left service on time, but on the road section to SS11 lost more gears and retired.
Fastest Time : Gronholm (Peugeot) 16:26.2
SS11 13:53 Brechfa 2 ((29.80km))
Marcus Gronholm collected a further stage win with Richard Burns the next quickest. However, the long and damp Brechfa stage was stopped after Ford's Carlos Sainz went off the road. 13 spectators were hurt in the accident, but thankfully none sustained life-threatening injuries. The stage was immediately cancelled and Carlos withdrew from the event. Ford also felt it appropriate to withdraw their remaining entry, that of British driver Mark Higgins. Only the first six cars through were given their own time, the rest were allocated the same time as Kenneth Eriksson, the last competitor to complete the stage at rally-speed.
Fastest Time : Gronholm (Peugeot) 17:12.1
SS12 14:41 Trawscoed 2 ((26.26km))
Following the accident on the previous stage, organisers cancelled SS12 and all cars were sent straight to the service area at Felindre.
Fastest Time : Stage cancelled
SS13 19:10 Cardiff Super Special 2 ((2.45km))
It's said that you can't win a rally on a super special - but you can certainly lose one, and none of the top drivers seemed prepared to go for broke in front of the crowd this evening. The second visit to the Cardiff super special saw Hyundai's Alister McRae set his first stage win of the rally. Armin Schwarz was second for Skoda with Alister's teammate Kenneth Eriksson third. Gronholm was fourth and Burns sixth.
Fastest Time : A. McRae (Hyundai) 2:11.3
There was an unfortunate end to a promising rally for Allstars driver Neil Weardon and co-driver Trevor Agnew. On SS9 the pair were once again inside the top ten fastest drivers and had consolidated their eleventh place overall. However, on the following stage a collision with a gate post ended their rally. Neil Weardon said:
"We hit the bottom of a gate post with the inside front wheel when we were on full lock turning into a corner and it pulled the steering out of the rack. We were only about three inches off line and the impact was so slight it did not event damage the tyre, let alone the wheel.
It is very frustrating because we were going so well, we could have driven only at 80 per cent and would have probably secured a good result, but we did not want to do that. We were trying and pushing as hard as we could and unfortunately we will not get the chance to finish."