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– Welshman leads in Wales as WRC event gets underway in earnest
– Tens of thousands line classic stages to cheer on home favourite
– Championship battle intensifies with little to choose between title-chasing trio
– Family-friendly RallyFest and after-dark challenge on the agenda for Saturday
– Tickets still available for all remaining speed tests

Elfyn Evans gave the huge crowds lining the Welsh forests plenty of reason to cheer today (27 October), by becoming the first British driver to lead on home soil for 16 years as he established a commanding advantage of almost 25 seconds on the opening leg of Dayinsure Wales Rally GB.

Having set the pace on yesterday’s Shakedown, Evans headed into today’s action – held in the famous mid-Wales forests and comprising two passes of the Myherin, Sweet Lamb and Hafren speed tests – in quietly confident mood.

Tens of thousands of enthusiastic partisan supporters lined the stages to watch the M-Sport World Rally Team ace – who hails from Dolgellau – sprint clear of all of his rivals, winning three of the six special stages behind the wheel of his DMACK-tyred Ford Fiesta WRC to rapturous reception. His performance made Evans the first British driver to lead Britain’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship since the late Colin McRae back in 2001.

“It’s obviously nice to be leading the way in Wales, and it’s a good position to be in overnight,” said Evans. “It’s been great to see so many fans out on the stages and all the Welsh flags – particularly at ‘Elfyn’s Corner’ in Myherin ­– so it was good to be able to reward them by going fastest on both runs through there.

“The conditions were really challenging; the grip levels were so changeable and we had a bit of understeer, but I think that was the same for everyone. There’s obviously pressure leading your home event, but it’s all going well at the moment.

“Tomorrow will be familiar territory for me, but you never know how it’s going to work out and there’s still a long way to go – it’s certainly not going to be plain sailing. Whatever happens, though, we’ll certainly be giving it our all.”

Behind the local favourite, the scrap for the 2017 Drivers’ World Championship crown intensified as Ott Tänak, Sébastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville fought hammer-and-tongs over second position. Just 12.5 seconds separates the trio, after the Belgian picked up a ten-second time penalty for a late check-in on Thursday night’s Visit Conwy Tir Prince curtain-raiser.

With Tänak and Ogier sitting second and third overnight, Cumbrian outfit M-Sport also moved a step closer to celebrating an historic Manufacturers’ title – something the popular independent team has not achieved since 2007.

Kris Meeke made it two Brits inside the top six in his Citroën C3 WRC, while recently-crowned FIA ERC Junior U27 Champion Chris Ingram is the best-placed two wheel-drive competitor in his Network Q-backed Vauxhall ADAM. Welshman Tom Cave sits third amongst the WRC2 runners.

Following a visit to Chester for a city centre parade and autograph session, crews will return to the Deeside Rally Village tonight for an evening service halt – ahead of tomorrow’s longest and most demanding day of the rally.

An early start precedes nine special stages totalling close to 90 competitive miles, with Evans sure to feel at home as the route through Gartheiniog goes quite literally past his back door on the southern edge of Snowdonia National Park. Saturday’s action also includes the family-friendly Toyota RallyFest at Cholmondeley Castle in Shropshire, before culminating in the additional challenge of the eagerly-anticipated night-time stages through Aberhirnant and Dyfnant.

2017 Dayinsure Wales Rally GB after 7 of 21 Special Stages

Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt – Ford Fiesta WRC 1h 09m 20.9s
Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia – Ford Fiesta WRC+24.6s
Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja – Ford Fiesta WRC+26.8s
Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul – Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC+37.1s
Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila – Toyota Yaris WRC+41.9s
Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle – Citroën C3 WRC +42.0s
Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger – Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +52.0s
Dani Sordo/Marc Martí – Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC+1m 13.9s
Hayden Paddon/Sebastian Marshall – Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC+1m 22.9s
Juho Hänninen/Kaj Lindström – Toyota Yaris WRC +1m 43.5s

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