What was that? A dry weekend in wales? Don’t be silly. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is. The infamous welsh muddy conditions will always be there deep in the forests. Most of the complaints about the event being to early were forgotten about pretty quickly when the WRC’s finest slipped and slid their way through the muddy stages. Wales never disappoints.
All eyes were on the title contenders. Championship leader Neuville. The currently seemingly unbeatable Tanak. Then lagging behind in 3rd was Ogier. Saying himself before the start, that he had to win here in Wales, otherwise his hopes for a 6th title would be gone.
Friday, the Frenchman’s hopes were fading faster than he was driving out of corners, after he lost 1st & 2nd gear. With concerns that the broken gear parts rattling around could do further damage, it was a worrying drive back to midday service. Just like the previous round in Turkey, his mechanics earned their money. Swapping out the gearbox and clutch in under 30 minutes. This dropped him down to 8th. His rivals? Well Champ leader Neuville was struggling with understeer and lack of grip in 5th. Tanak on the other hand, once again, he was in a world of his own. Almost untouchable, with a lead of over 8 seconds over last years winner and welshman Elfyn Evans. Evans was putting in a good drive. Gave the locals something to cheer for.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. On the road section on the way to the afternoon stages, the car came to a holt. The engine had had enough. It was over. That left Tanak to lead by 28 seconds. Behind him? Well Neuville had sorted his set-up in the afternoon, found some grip and was up to 2nd. This was looking bad for Ogier who ended the first full day in 5th. He said that 5th meant nothing to him. If he wanted to stay in the title fight, then the frenchman would need to give tomorrow an all out, risk all, win it or bin it approach. Saturday was game on!
The organisers of Wales Rally GB made a few changes to the event. It wasn’t exactly stale, but a welcome change brings new challenges. Personally, I thought they were brilliant! Friday held what would usually be the final two stages of the rally, Alwen & Brenig. Joined them together to make one big, brilliant stage, thanks to the change in law allowing the use of the public main road to link them together.
Also new to Friday was the Slate Mountain stage. Based within the ‘Zip World’ area of the slate Cavens. Referred to as a ‘Mickey mouse’ stage. But I thought that was pretty harsh of this very enjoyable an challenging test. High up in the mountains over looking Blaenau-Ffestiniog within the Snowdonia National Park. Offering the crews a tough challenge racing on the world renown Welsh Slate, with massive cliff drop off’s at the side of the very narrow road. It also gave us spectators and photographers stunning scenery – Or at least it would have done if it wasn’t throwing down with that Welsh wet stuff and shrouded in fog. But despite the conditions, it was a highlight of the day. Also at the bottom of the mountain, was the attractions facilities, cafe, proper toilets which are a luxury to fans in WRC. A place to warm up and share stories before the next stage, a great new edition to the rally.
On to Saturday. Tighten your seat belts, Ogier was on a charge. It was the mid-wales stages. Usually ran on Friday, this time it was known as ‘Super Saturday’ the longest day of the Rally totalling 150km’s over 9 stages. Starting with 20km’s of the stunning Myherin. Now as a Spectator, the following Sweet Lamb stage has everything you could possibly hope for. Jumps, water slashes, hairpins, fast bends, all viewable from one spot. But if you wanted something a little bit different, then popping across the road is well worth it. High up in the welsh hills, through the wind farm, the road is wide and fast. A favourite of Jari-Matti Latvala and Elfyn Evans. The morning run was wet, muddy, full of sideways stuff. The afternoon brought sunshine, which quickly dried out the surface, giving a small sweeping effect, with actual gravel and dust, which is a rare sight in Wales.
But this time it was Sweet Lamb that caused the drama. A stage which was also linked by a public road, to the classic Hafren to make one mega unbroken piece of road. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville pushed to try to close the gap to Ott Tanak in 1st. But it was too much, Neuville’s i20 Slid off the road and into a ditch. Fan’s pushed him back on, but the damage was done. He dropped to a muddy 8th. Ogier, was in full attack mode. Already passed the other Toyota’s he was 3rd. Then thanks to Neuville’s off, he had reached 2nd by midday. But Latvala, the most experienced Wales Rally driver, didn’t make it easy for the Frenchman, he was right on his tale.
However, that afternoon got even better for Ogier. But not so good for rally leader Ott Tanak. Landing heavily over a jump, he damaged his seemingly still fragile Toyota Yaris. He had to come to a heart breaking stop. Walking away, from the steaming, overheated Yaris, he lay down in the mud. The day was over, his title dreams taking a big Welsh dent. Ogier said he was ready to risk it all and it paid off with one final day to go. But as we all know in rallying, it’s never over until it’s over. Latvala was hungry for a win. He had a plan & was ready to give Ogier a hard time.
Sunday. This was where the organiser’s made the real changes. Something special. Not only were they going to have the rally finish on one of the WRC’s most iconic and challenging stages. But they would make further use of the law change in closing public roads. And bring the rally to the people at the same time. Because the drivers – Assuming they survive the tarmac, twists, turns and wheel breaking cliff faces and sheer drops into the Atlantic Ocean of the Great Orme. They would then continue off the Orme toll road and into the streets of Llandudno. Along the scenic seafront and turn right into the town. Some crowd pleasing donuts and a seafront jump before crossing the finish line in front of thousands of people. A spectacular way to end a spectacular rally. This would look great on Live TV too.
But can Ogier hold on to his 4 second lead over a determined Latvala? Into the woods they go. Latvala 2nd fastest. He closes the gap to just over a second now to Ogier. Now anther twist in the Welsh Itinerary. The 2nd stage of the day was the Power stage. Due to the regulations, Great Orme could not run as the bonus points awarding Power Stage. As the tarmac wasn’t representative of the generally mud filled stages. We all know what Ogier is capable of when there’s extra points on offer. But Latvala came through with a blistering time, which would take some doing to beat. Ogier’s ‘doing’ wasn’t enough. 5 seconds down. With even Tanak returning to be 7 tenths faster than the Frenchman. Only 3 extra points for Ogier. Whats worst, he lost the lead to his ex Volkswagen team mate.
Next up was the first running of the iconic Great Orme stage. On tarmac. Ogier is a master on the black stuff. He fought back hard to gain back some lost time. The gap now closed to within 2 tenths of a second to Latvala. The battle was tense. Seb had found his groove again and was on it! With one aim, to win. Latvala could do no more. 2nd run through Gwydir, Seb re-took the lead. Unfortunately no points for this run, but it didn’t matter. The win did. Back onto his preferred surface for another tricky Orme and street blast to the flag. Fastest again and the beautiful golden trophy was his. His name engraved one more time than any other driver on there, this time he really had to earned it. Ogier becomes the first ever to conquer the mud and valleys of Wales Rally GB five times. That title fight, is back on.
Down in the WRC 2 Class, the Green factory Skoda’s dominated the welsh woods. 18 year old Kalle Rovanpera won his first WRC2 rally of the season. The youngster took the first stage of the event and never looked back as he won 15 out of 23 stages to win by a margin of over a minute to his more experienced team mate Pontus Tidemand. With Brit Gus Greensmith rounding out the podium. The home crowd also had something to cheer about down in WRC3 as British driver Tom Williams took the win in his Fiesta.
So the ‘new look’ Wales Rally GB was a success. The new additions brought back something fresh to the weekend. As always the organising was almost perfect. Particularly in Myherin. Car park marshals constantly checking everything. Squeezing fan’s & their car’s into every gap they could find in the woods to make it as easy as possible for spectators to walk up to the stage. Always with a friendly smile and chat. The Slate Mountain stage was just stunning with very easy access.
The only negative was getting into the Great Orme. The car park was late in opening. Sitting waiting in the small queue of traffic for over an hour an half with no information and not a single marshal, except for the man taking a £5 parking charge off us. Which when fans have already paid £100 for a full weekend pass, seemed crazy. Fair enough, charging people without a pass, on a ‘free’ to watch stage. But the pricing, especially for those who paid 3 figure sum’s for the full weekend needs looking into. Eventually some ‘security’ people turned up to manage the Orme car park, but didn’t seem too sure on what they were doing and were more lost than some of the spectators. Also, Llandudno needed more signs to direct fans up to the Orme off the A55. As it was a bit of a maze if you didn’t know the area.
But these are minor annoyances. Overall the running of the event was brilliant. One of the many things that the organisers are good at, is thinking on their feet and solving problems quickly and safely. Despite the weather conditions, delays and other things that were out of their control, they kept the event running without a single cancelled stage. The new ideas brought something fresh and special to the event. The finish was mega. I already can’t wait until we get to climb up Slate Mountain and the Great Orme again.
Wales Rally GB 2018 was an absolute classic.
Check out the Full Wales Rally GB Photo Gallery HERE
- Latvala +10.6
- Lappi +35.1
- Breen + 1:10.4
- Neuville +1:14.4
- Mikkelsen +1:15.9
- Paddon +1:18.4
- Ostberg +1:21.6
Drivers’ championship points –
1. Neuville – 189
2. Ogier – 182
3. Tänak – 167
4. Lappi – 104
5. Latvala – 98