Fresh from grabbing his first stage victory for Hyundai, Craig Breen repeated that winning feat on Saturday’s penultimate stage to close to within 10 seconds of Ott Tänak at the head of the Rally Estonia order.
Breen was thrilled with the performance of his Hyundai, remarking: “It’s the first time I’ve had a car working so well in the ruts, it’s delivering on every kilometer.”
The proof was in his stage time as he beat Tänak by four seconds, although the World Rally Champion was not on the ragged edge.
“We need to finish,” he said, referring to his non-score in Monte Carlo and perhaps to team-mate Thierry Neuville’s exit earlier on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s really important to get through and this one was rough so we were very careful.”
Sébastien Ogier’s pace was also fairly sedate as he “didn’t dare to push” when the stages were so rough, losing another 3.6s to Breen ahead of him and going slower than both his Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mates too.
They find themselves in a bout of friendly fire, as Kalle Rovanperä has continued to nibble away at his Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans’ advantage in fourth place, taking another 1.7s from the Welshman on SS10.
With just one stage left to go on Saturday, Rovanperä is now lurking just 2.4s behind the Rally Sweden winner in fifth.
Takamoto Katsuta (above) was “almost off twice” on the second pass of Máeküla after getting his Toyota Yaris WRC lodged out of the ruts that have formed on the stages, but admitted he was still having “fun” in sixth overall. That would be his best ever WRC finish if he can hold onto it for the remaining seven stages.
Pierre-Louis Loubet got the better of Teemu Suninen in their unofficial aggregate battle on Saturday afternoon. Over the course of Saturday afternoon’s first three stages, Suninen pulled 0.3s clear of Loubet but on Máeküla, Loubet beat Suninen – who was “trying to bring the car home” – by two seconds.
On the leaderboard the gap looks too big to be a problem for Suninen, currently standing at 22.9s.
The third M-Sport Ford of Gus Greensmith is an increasingly distant 10th, 32.6s off Loubet’s 2C Competition-run Hyundai.
Suninen is also closing on team-mate Esapekka Lappi’s seventh place, even if he isn’t necessarily trying to. Lappi dropped 1.1s to Suninen on SS10 to hold seventh by just 8.1s.
Lappi is renowned for his abject moods when things aren’t going well, and that has well and truly crept in over the course of Rally Estonia.
“Not really high,” he said at the end of SS10 when asked how his mood was. “I’m just trying to be smart. I try to keep some speed but it seems like I’m really slow.”
1 Breen (Hyundai) 7m40.1s
2 Rovanperä (Toyota) +0.7s
3 Evans (Toyota) +2.4s
4 Ogier (Toyota) +3.6s
5 Tänak (Hyundai) +4.0s
Leading positions after SS10
1 Tänak (Hyundai) 1h09m08.6s
2 Breen (Hyundai) +9.8s
3 Ogier (Toyota) +22.1s
4 Evans (Toyota) +34.3s
5 Rovanperä (Toyota) +36.7s
6 Katsuta (Toyota) +57.9s
7 Lappi (M-Sport Ford) +1m33.5s
8 Suninen (M-Sport Ford) +1m41.6s
9 Loubet (2C Competition Hyundai) +2m04.5s
10 Greensmith (M-Sport Ford) +2m37.1s