SS4: Dyfnant 1, 19.36km
Dyfnant is driven to its full length this time round. Wide and flowing forest roads characterise the opening half, with some great corners to entice drivers. There is the odd rougher part but generally it is extremely smooth. The second half is narrower with a series of tight turns in the final 5km. Organisers have added a 2km section after the midpoint which has not been driven in this direction since 1995.
SS5: Aberhirnant 1, 10.26km
The surface is smooth and the roads are flowing – if a driver is totally confident with the pace notes, then this is a stage where time can be made up. It mixes wide and narrow sections, but is very fast throughout with plenty of long fast corners to encourage attacking. Only in the final 3km do the bends become a little tighter in places.
The Toyota Yaris driver failed to win any of the four muddy and slippery gravel road special stages, but consistent performances kept him 6.0sec clear of Thierry Neuville as competitors returned to the sanctuary of the Llandudno service park.
Less than 10sec covered the top six, but Meeke retained his advantage despite a spin in Dyfnant when he missed a braking point and overshot a hairpin in a slippery section which trapped several others.
“It was tricky for everyone in the challenging conditions,” he said. “The stages were soaking wet and we’re glad to be here. Let’s see how the conditions develop in the afternoon. It looks like the rain may have passed but it’s still going to be soaking wet and full of mud.”
Neuville climbed from fourth to second in his Hyundai i20 in the morning’s closing Aberhirnant stage, preventing a clean sweep of the top three places for Toyota Gazoo Racing.
Joint fastest time for Jari-Matti Latvala in Aberhirnant promoted the Finn to third, despite sliding into a ditch in Dyfnant and surviving a big moment in the following test.
He was 0.2sec behind Neuville and 0.3sec ahead of championship leader Ott Tänak, who yielded a few seconds after earlier climbing to second when quickest in Dyfnant.
The Estonian made set-up changes to his Yaris throughout the morning and planned more improvements during service. Sébastien Ogier was just 2.3sec behind him in fifth after flirting with a ditch in Aberhirnant, the Frenchman also coping with a cracked windscreen in his Citroën C3.
Craig Breen was a tenth ahead of Latvala before Aberhirnant but the test was halted before he started when spectators refused to obey marshals’ safety instructions. The Irishman received a notional time which keeps him firmly in contention, 9.8sec off the lead in sixth.
Esapekka Lappi and Andreas Mikkelsen, in an i20, were seventh and eighth, Lappi feeling more comfortable after softening his C3’s suspension. They headed Teemu Suninen, who dropped away from the top six after sliding his Fiesta off the road in Dyfnant and having to reverse.
Elfyn Evans was back in the top 10 after making repairs to his Fiesta’s damaged suspension after swiping a bank earlier. The Welshman was joint fastest in Aberhirnant but almost 45sec adrift of Meeke.