SS2: Elsi 1, 11.65km
Elsi has been revised and lengthened from last year, with much of it driven in the opposite direction. A tricky left corner soon after the start sets the tone for what is a highly technical stage and a new section in the middle is just as tight and twisty. Visibility is good in parts where the forest has been harvested, but most areas have low vision due to thick vegetation.
SS3: Penmachno 1, 16.19km
The narrow northern part of Penmachno is joined to the wider southern part by an asphalt link road. After a fast start, the stage passes through a quarry, before a narrow dipping 600 metre section full of bumps and jumps, known as the Cresta Run. It’s a fast test, especially in the second part, but there are several hidden corners where accurate pace notes are crucial.
The Ulsterman, who led after Thursday night’s curtain-raiser at Oulton Park motor racing circuit, was second quickest through both the 11.65km Elsi and the 16.19km Penmachno special stages in his Toyota Yaris to widen his advantage to 9.2sec.
Although the tail end of Hurricane Lorenzo failed to bring the extreme weather predicted overnight, steady rain made the gravel tracks in the Snowdonia mountains of north Wales extremely slippery.
Home hero Elfyn Evans was quickest out of the blocks in Elsi in his Ford Fiesta, stopping the clocks 0.5sec up on Meeke. Ott Tänak came to the fore in Penmachno, the championship leader fastest by 1.6sec from his consistent team-mate.
World champion Sébastien Ogier was Meeke’s closest rival in the overall standings, the Frenchman sixth in Elsi and third in Penmachno. He had 0.3sec in hand over Tänak, who quickly recovered from last night’s time loss when he stalled his Yaris.
Evans’ promising start received a setback when he slid wide on a fast right corner in Penmachni. The Welshman touched a bank and left the stage finish to check suspected rear left suspension damage (pictured below), having dropped almost 45sec.
Behind the top three, the next six drivers were blanketed by 7.4sec. Thierry Neuville was fourth in his Hyundai i20, 3.2sec clear of team-mate Craig Breen, with Jari-Matti Latvala and Teemu Suninen hot on their heels in sixth and seventh.
Latvala had a lucky escape in Elsi when the Finn slide wide, leaving the rear of his Yaris hanging over a ditch.