Craig Breen has retired from Rally Finland, hitting something hard in the undergrowth when landing over a small crest.
Breen had been running in fifth place heading onto Saturday’s second stage, 35.6seconds down on rally leader Ott Tänak.
Finland had been anticipated to be a strong event for Breen who was third here last year for Hyundai, and his M-Sport boss Richard Millener had urged him to throw caution to the wind in pursuit of a good result.
His challenge was somewhat stunted on Friday when he backed off after suffering a hit to his subframe, but it capitulated on SS12 Rapsula – a stage that featured sections of the famous Ouninpohja stage, including the infamous Kakkaristo junction where Breen rolled a Ford Fiesta S2000 end-over-end 10 years ago.
Although his exit was far less dramatic in 2022 than it was in 2012, the end result was the same as Breen clouted something solid while jumping in the air and immediately had to slow as a result.
An alarming clonking noise told its own story, and Breen parked his Ford Puma Rally1 up and out of the rally.
It was another tricky stage for the World Rally Championship’s finest as the rain had intensified compared to the first stage on Saturday morning, putting grip at a real premium. First on the road Adrien Fourmaux put it in real terms: “At 180kph the wipers don’t go quick enough!”
Kalle Rovanperä has excelled in conditions like these throughout the season so far, but he lost ground to Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans on SS11.
But Rovanperä was back on SS12, edging Evans by 3.1s to steal third place away from him – holding the place now by a slender seven tenths.
“I probably focused a bit too much on being tidy and being in the clean line,” Evans said.
“I could sort of sense it [the time loss] but it’s hard to know when it’s like that it can go one of two ways.”
“I just tried to do the best I can,” Rovanperä added, “this was a cleaner stage than the one before.”
However the gap out front has continued to balloon as the rain upset Esapekka Lappi’s seamless rhythm from Friday.
Lappi dropped another 1.8s to Tänak, not helped by running too deep into a junction and slowly turning his Toyota round the corner to avoid slipping into a ditch.
Lappi has cut a happy figure so far this weekend, but the depressed tones were back at the end of SS12.
“It’s not easy, it’s very slippery,” he said sombrely. “Many mistakes. I thought I was early on this junction but no, too slippy.”
Lappi’s disappointing run coupled with Rovanperä’s first stage win of this year’s Rally Finland has closed the gap between second and third to just 6.5s.
Despite still not feeling comfortable with life aboard his Hyundai, Thierry Neuville has moved ahead of Takamoto Katsuta.
Katsuta had a messy stage. He suffered a mild scare when he overcooked a left-hander and backed his Yaris into a bush, had another flirt with the scenery and then half spun at one of the final junctions – the same corner Lappi overshot.
“It’s very slippy and I don’t know why we stalled the engine there, the engine stopped under braking. Not nice, I don’t know.”
All of the dramas cost Katsuta 13.3s to Neuville, meaning he trails him now by 0.3s. But ironically the Toyota Next Generation actually lost zero positions as although he lost a place to Neuville, he made one up due to Breen’s retirement.
Neuville said: “On the car setup it’s better now but I’m missing a bit of pull on the front and the precision – the precision is the main thing I’m missing now. I tried to drive fast, but you can feel when you’re driving that it’s not enough.”