Estonian Ott Tänak gave Toyota its first Wales Rally GB win since 1996 by storming to victory at the gruelling four-day event (3-6 October), delivering his Yaris WRC a scintillating 10 second win over Belgian rival Thierry Neuville.
Tänak charged into the lead on the ninth of the event’s 22 stages and would never be headed whilst fastest time on the final Wolf Brenig Power Stage landed him an additional five points in the World Rally Championship (WRC) title fight.
His performance extended his lead over Sebastien Ogier to 28 points – the six time champion did all he could to match the awe-inspiring pace of the victorious Toyota but would have to settle for third place over the demanding Welsh tests.
For the first time in its history, on Thursday the rally started from Liverpool in a high-profile ceremony outside the Royal Liver Building on the city’s historic waterfront. Fans were then treated to a spectacular opening night blast around the Dayinsure Oulton Park Stage to kick off proceedings with Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke taking the lead, blitzing his Toyota Yaris WRC through the slippery conditions.
Meeke would head the leader board for much of Friday in north Wales however that lead soon diminished as Tänak charged to the fore. From there, the championship leader wouldn’t look back and clinched his maiden Wales Rally GB win and lift the coveted Peall Trophy.
“Of course, I am so happy with this win and I have always wanted victory at Wales Rally GB,” he enthused. “It was a long weekend with long days and short nights and a lot of pressure. I guess the gap was never bigger than 10 seconds and every stage I was on the limit. It was a hard one, but it feels good at the moment.”
The fight for the final podium positions was more of a tussle as Ogier and Neuville scrapped for valuable points in the World Championship title race. Ogier would have the upper hand going into the gruelling ‘Super Saturday’ stages, but steadily Neuville reeled in the Frenchman to end the leg in second place.
Sunday offered the shortest leg of the rally and little opportunity to claw back any significant time deficit. As such, Ogier had nothing left in the tank to challenge Neuville despite being ‘right on the limit’ of his Citroen C3 WRC, eventually having to settle for third.
Having held the initial lead, Meeke struggled with grip in his Yaris WRC and dropped to fourth by the time the rally headed to mid-Wales on Saturday. He managed his pace throughout the remainder of event to finish just shy of the podium positions.
However, he would need to keep an eye on his mirror as home-hero Elfyn Evans returned an awe-inspiring drive to recover from suspension damage on Friday. Dropping to 12th, Evans stormed up the leader board in his Ford Fiesta WRC, inningseven stages in total to leapfrog Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen into fifth place. The Welshman was left wondering what could have been, had he not lost time earlier on.
Wales Rally GB lived up to its reputation as being one of the toughest on the WRC calendar, with inclement weather and treacherous stages challenging the best rally drivers in the world. Record numbers of fans were treated to a high-octane display of skill as crews from across the world blasted through 192 miles of flat-out action in the classic Welsh forests.
Outside of the WRC premier league, there were equally intense battles for the support series’ and their respective titles. Kalle Rovanperä was crowned WRC2 Pro champion in his Skoda Fabia R5 after yet another impressive drive to ninth place overall.
Wales Rally GB also staged the final round of the prized FIA Junior World Rally Championship – a title won previously by Elfyn Evans and Sébastien Ogier. Spaniard Jan Solans eventually secured the coveted title after his rivals faltered.
Four time Wales Rally GB winners Petter Solberg and Welshman Phil Mills made an emotional farewell appearance, taking tenth place overall and top honours in the WRC2 category in their Volkswagen Polo R5.
Welsh honours were not just restricted to Evans, as Tom Cave and Dale Furniss took their Hyundai i20 R5 to 11th place, narrowly missing out on a top ten place by just 15 seconds and were also the first all-Welsh crew home.
Unprecedented crowds lined the stages as the dramatic action unfolded creating a memorable atmosphere in the forests. Slate Mountain and the brand-new floodlit Colwyn Bay stage offered a family-friendly alternative to the forests and a stop in the centre of Newtown on Saturday allowed the public an opportunity to see the cars and stars up close.
The Ceremonial Finish on Llandudno’s promenade rounded off what had been an outstanding event in fine style, as the winners sprayed the champagne in front of an enthusiastic crowd.
2019 WALES RALLY FINAL RESULTS*
(AFTER 22 SPECIAL STAGES)
1. Ott Tänak/Martin Jarveoja – Toyota Yaris WRC 3h 00m 58sec
2. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul – Hyundai i20 WRC +10.9sec
3. Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia – Citroen C3 WRC +23.8sec
4. Kris Meeke/Seb Marshall – Toyota Yaris WRC +35.6sec
5. Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin – Ford Fiesta WRC +48.6sec
6. Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger – Hyundai i20 WRC +58.2sec
7. Pontus Tidemand/Ola Floene – Ford Fiesta WRC +5m.23.8sec
8. Craig Breen/Paul Nagle – Hyundai i20 WRC +9m.25.0sec
9. Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen – Skoda Fabia R5 +10m.51.1sec
10. Petter Solberg/Phil Mills – Volkswagen Polo R5 +11m.36.1sec
*Subject to confirmation by the FIA