TÄNAK EDGING CLOSER TO WRC TITLE
Estonian Ott Tänak gave Toyota its first Wales Rally GB win since 1996 by storming to victory at the gruelling four-day event, delivering his Yaris WRC a scintillating 10 second win over Belgian rival Thierry Neuville.
Tänak charged into the lead on the ninth of the event’s 22 stages and would never be headed, whilst fastest time on the final Brenig Power Stage landed him an additional five points in the FIA World Rally Championship’s title fight.
His performance extended his lead over Sébastien Ogier to 28 points. The six-time champion did all he could to match the awe-inspiring pace of the victorious Toyota but would have to settle for third place over the demanding Welsh tests.
Kris Meeke took an early lead on Thursday’s opening night stage, blitzing his Toyota Yaris WRC through the slippery conditions. The Ulsterman would head the leader board for much of Friday in north Wales, however that lead soon diminished as Tänak charged to the fore.
The fight for the final podium positions was more of a tussle as Ogier and Neuville scrapped for valuable points in the World Championship title race. Ogier would have the upper hand going into the gruelling Saturday stages, but steadily Neuville reeled in the Frenchman to end the leg in second place.
Sunday offered the shortest leg of the rally and little opportunity to claw back any significant time deficit. As such, Ogier had nothing left in the tank to challenge Neuville despite being ‘right on the limit’ of his Citroën C3 WRC, eventually having to settle for third.
Having held the initial lead, Meeke struggled with grip in his Yaris WRC and dropped to fourth by the time the rally headed to mid-Wales on Saturday. He managed his pace throughout the remainder of event to finish just shy of the podium positions.
However, he would need to keep an eye on his mirror as home-hero Elfyn Evans returned an awe-inspiring drive to recover from suspension damage on Friday. Dropping to 12th, Evans stormed up the leader board in his Ford Fiesta WRC, winning seven stages in total to leapfrog Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen into fifth place. The Welshman was left wondering what could have been, had he not lost time earlier on.
Teammate Teemu Suninen failed to restart on Sunday after damaging his car in a crash on Saturday, leaving the third Fiesta of Pontus Tidemand to take seventh.
Craig Breen recovered from a spectacular roll to finish eighth in another i20.
Wales Rally GB lived up to its reputation as being one of the toughest on the FIA WRC calendar, with inclement weather and treacherous stages in the classic Welsh forests challenging the best rally drivers in the world.
Outside of the WRC premier league, there were equally intense battles for the support championships and their respective titles. Kalle Rovanperä was crowned FIA WRC2 Pro champion in his Škoda Fabia R5 after yet another impressive drive to ninth place overall.
Wales Rally GB also staged the final round of the prized FIA Junior World Rally Championship – a title won previously by Elfyn Evans and Sébastien Ogier. Spaniard Jan Solans eventually secured the coveted title after his rivals faltered.
Four time Wales Rally GB winners Petter Solberg and Welshman Phil Mills made an emotional farewell appearance, taking tenth place overall and top honours in the FIA WRC2 category in their Volkswagen Polo R5.
2019 WALES RALLY GB – Final official results:
1. Ott Tänak (EST) / Martin Järveoja (EST) Toyota Yaris WRC 3hr 00min 58.0sec
2. Thierry Neuville (BEL) / Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 3hr 01min 08.9sec
3. Sébastien Ogier (FRA) / Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Citroën C3 WRC 3hr 01min 21.8sec
4. Kris Meeke (GBR) / Sebastian Marshall (GBR) Toyota Yaris WRC 3hr 01min 33.6sec
5. Elfyn Evans (GBR) / Scott Martin (GBR) Ford Fiesta WRC 3hr 01min 46.6sec
6. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) / Anders Jaeger-Amland (NOR) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 3hr 01min 56.2sec
7. Pontus Tidemand (SWE) / Ola Floene (NOR) Ford Fiesta WRC 3hr 06min 21.8sec
8. Craig Breen (IRL) / Paul Nagle (IRL) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 3hr 10min 23.0sec
9. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN) / Jonne Halttunen (FIN) Škoda Fabia R5 Evo 3hr 11min 49.1sec
10. Petter Solberg (NOR) / Phil Mills (GBR) Volkswagen Polo R5 3hr 12min 34.1sec