Sébastien Ogier retained the Dayinsure Wales Rally GB lead from Estonian Ott Tänak on Saturday.
The Frenchman, who sealed his fourth consecutive world title in Spain earlier this month, completed the second and penultimate leg with a 33.8 sec advantage over Tänak. Thierry Neuville was third, a further minute adrift in a Hyundai i20.
Although conditions were better than yesterday, fog and greasy dirt roads in mid-Wales ensured driving was far from simple. But Ogier, who has led since the start in his Volkswagen Polo R, kept Estonian Tänak at bay during eight speed tests covering 99.91km.
Tänak won four of the first six special stages in his Ford Fiesta RS to cut the Frenchman’s lead from 37.3sec to 24.8sec. But his hopes were dashed when Ogier regained a large chunk of time in the dank and muddy penultimate test at Aberhirnant.
“I tried to go flat out for the whole day, pushing hard all the time,” said Ogier. “Tomorrow I’ll do what I can and see if it is enough.”
Neuville is chasing the runners-up position in the drivers’ championship and was relieved to escape unscathed after mounting a bank this morning. He pulled away from team-mate Hayden Paddon to end 12.6sec clear.
Paddon could not get to grips with the tricky conditions. The mud required a straighter and more precise driving line, in contrast to the Kiwi’s aggressive style, and although he modified his i20’s set-up, he could not improve the grip.
After being in the thick of the podium fight, a lacklustre Kris Meeke slipped back. The Ulsterman used both spare wheels after two slow punctures this morning in his Citroën DS 3. With no opportunity to take onboard additional tyres, he steered a careful path through the rest of the day to preserve fifth.
Sixth-placed Dani Sordo hated the unpredictable conditions in his i20 but was under no pressure from Mads Østberg behind.
Sunday’s final leg is the shortest and is based solely in north Wales. Drivers tackle two loops of three stages covering 52.08km. The rally ends with the 7.93km Brenig live TV Power Stage, with bonus points for the fastest three drivers.
Recce notes: Wales Rally GB
The route for this week’s Dayinsure Wales Rally GB is billed as the longest and most challenging since the event moved to Deeside in 2013.