Wales set for classic title fightposted in WRC26 | 10 | 2017

    THE WORLD’S FASTEST rally drivers converge on the Welsh forests this weekend for the penultimate round of the World Rally Championship. And while championship leader Sebastien Ogier starts favourite, and on the verge of clinching his fifth win in the Dayinsure Wales Rally GB, two Brits are also hungry for success on home soil.  (Related: John MacCrone returns to tackle Wales Rally GB)

    Colin McRae protege, Ulsterman Kris Meeke, and Welshman Elfyn Evans are gunning for what would be a famous home win, the first since 2000.

    But all the crews face three days of nerve-jangling, sideways driving in the forests as conditions look set to deteriorate with rain forecast for much of the event.

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    And with the prospect of seeing Ogier clinch the driver’s title, Ford sealing the Constructors’ Championship, plus the possibility of a British win, it’s no surprise that advance tickets sales have been significantly higher than in recent years.

    Meeke has already won twice this year – most recently last time out in Spain – while Evans came within a whisker of winning in Argentina. Both Brits are among the hot favourites for a famous home victory.

    Adding to UK interest, the Cumbrian-based M-Sport World Rally Team has moved within touching distance of a first Manufacturers’ title since 2007. It now only needs a couple of finishes in Wales, irrespective of overall placings, to take the coveted championship.

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    With the Deeside Rally Village in place, the WRC crews took to the special stages earlier this week in their recce cars to assess the conditions, perfect their all-important pacenotes, and steel themselves for what lies ahead over the 190 miles of competitive running.

    A total of 21 forest stages make up the 2017 route, many of them revised since last year and an old favourite – Gwydir in the Snowdonia National Park – rejoins the schedule on Sunday morning for the first time since 2013.

    There’s also a new curtain-raiser under the floodlights at the Tir Prince Raceway in County Conwy this evening. Also back by popular demand are a pair of night speed tests, these are set in the Aberhirnant and Dyfnant forests after dark on Saturday.

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    The destiny of the 2017 World Championship is still to be settled with Sébastien Ogier and his M-Sport team-mate Ott Tänak still fighting for the coveted crown along with Hyundai’s top gun Thierry Neuville.

    Ogier will clinch the title in Wales should he finish in front of his two hard-chasing rivals. The Frenchman is also seeking to rewrite the history books by becoming the first man in history to win the unforgiving event five times.

    "It’s an important weekend for me, and of course I want to do well," Ogier said. "No surprise in the recce – typically Rally GB – tricky conditions sometimes, but still beautiful stages and looking forward to start.

    "It’s never easy to win the title, but this year has been very close. We’ve had to fight hard and we didn’t have the big advantage we had over the others that we had last year. Makes it a good achievement with tough competition.

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    "The plan at the start is just the victory. I’m not going to take too many risks, which is never easy to do here, but we will always try to win as that would mean with certainty that we win the championship.

    “That’s the first plan, but if it’s too complicated then we have a plan of damage limitation. To score some points is okay, but the plan isn’t to do that, it’s victory!"

    The M-Sport star is sure to have things far from his own way in Wales, however, with homegrown heroes eager to turn the tables as Britain seeks to end its 17-year victory drought on the event. Kris Meeke is up for the fight, following victory last time out in Spain.

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    "They’re difficult conditions out there, but the surfaces do look like they’re yielding a little more grip the way they’ve resurfaced them for this year," the Ulsterman said.

    "Saturday will be tricky as usual, with Hafren, Sweet Lamb and Myherin. We covered Sunday’s stages on Wednesday morning and they were very muddy, very tricky. So it’s going to be a long weekend.

    “But it’s good to be back here. The weather’s looking fair enough over the weekend but it’ll be difficult in our starting position. We’ll give it our best shot."

    No fewer than 79 international crews are set to tackle the challenging event, accompanied by 81 further competitors on the supporting WRGB National Rally.

    Related: Scots crews set for Rally GB assault

    Keep up-to-date with all the latest news by following us on twitter.com/Scotcars

    Jim McGill

     

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