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Ott Tanak leads Rally GB after Friday’s morning stages as he seeks a fourth World Rally Championship win in a row.
Tanak crushed his opposition by taking three stage wins in a succession at the start of the day.
He took victory on the longest stage – Brenig – ahead of Elfyn Evans, while his championship rivals Sebastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville were 7.3 seconds and 15s adrift respectively.
Ogier and Neuville then hit trouble on the following stage.
A gearbox problem that meant he lost first and second gear meant Ogier spun twice, while Hyundai’s Neuville lost around a second by overshooting the corner of a junction.
Neuville would hit back on the two short Slate Mountain runs – which featured heavy rain, fog and loose stones – winning the first stage to claw time back on Tanak.
While Tanak’s eventual Friday morning lead was 8.9s after a more conservative run on Slate Mountain, Ogier fell further away from his two title competitors.
He finished the first run more than three seconds slower than Neuville and Tanak, and last of all the WRC runners, and then lost further time on the second Slate Mountain run to fall to eighth overall.
The M-Sport Ford driver, who called his morning a “disaster”, heads to the service park for repairs 27.9s behind Tanak’s leading time.
Neuville is three places higher than Ogier in the overall order, as he currently lies fifth and is 21.8s off the lead.
Evans, the 2017 Rally GB winner, finished the morning loop in second place overall after proving to be the only driver able to get within three seconds of Tanak on the Brenig stage.
Evans could potentially have gone faster if not for some flashing lights on the dashboard of his Ford that he explained were a distraction but just a false alarm.
Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala put some pressure on Evans by finishing a close second to Tanak on the fourth stage, Penmanchno, and followed that result with two strong Slate Mountain runs, winning the second attempt to trail Evans by 6.5s in third overall.
Teemu Suninen was fourth ahead of Neuville, with the struggling Esapekka Lappi recovering from a lack of confidence in his Toyota to haul it into seventh behind Craig Breen (Citroen C3).
Citroen’s Mads Ostberg was ninth behind Ogier, with Hayden Paddon rounding out the top 10 ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen.
Several drivers complained of understeer and changeable grip through the early stages, with Latvala suggesting that pre-event testing had not matched the rally’s conditions.
Rising star Kalle Rovanpera stunned the WRC2 field with a Brenig run that was 23.7s faster than the second-quickest car on the stage, which was driven by Tom Cave.
Rovanpera holds a comfortable margin of 37.9s over Skoda’s Pontus Tidemand heading into the Friday afternoon’s action.
Leading positions after SS6
|1||Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||35m13.4s|
|2||Elfyn Evans, D.Barritt||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||8.9s|
|3||Jari-Matti Latvala, M.Anttila||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||15.4s|
|4||Teemu Suninen, M.Markkula||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||21.5s|
|5||Thierry Neuville, N.Gilsoul||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||21.8s|
|6||Craig Breen, S.Martin||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||22.9s|
|7||Esapekka Lappi, J.Ferm||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||25.4s|
|8||Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||27.9s|
|9||Mads Ostberg, T.Eriksen||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||31.3s|
|10||Hayden Paddon, S.Marshall||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||32.9s|