Craig Breen has given himself some breathing space over third-placed Sébastien Ogier by winning the second pass of Otepää that he described as an “anti-gravity stage.”
Second-placed Breen started the test just 5.3s ahead of Ogier’s Toyota and 14.6s shy of his rally leading team-mate Ott Tänak, but boosted his advantage over Ogier to 8.7s with a time that was 0.8s quicker than Tänak.
It was a sweet moment for Breen who had lost out on the stage win on the first pass by just 0.1s. He got a “well done” from co-driver Paul Nagle as they crossed the line, to which Breen replied: “I f****** tried hard,” punching the steering wheel with joy.
“It’s just incredible,” he said to stage-end reporters.
“The car does absolutely everything you expect of it. Like an anti-gravity stage, just super. Absolutely incredible.”
Breen’s first stage win for Hyundai means he’s now 13.8s behind Tänak who was happy with own performance: “For me also very clean stage,” said the rally leader.
“It seems to be difficult for the tires this event so need to be careful with them.”
Ogier sang the same tune : “It’s quite a different rally [this afternoon] like we expected, very rutted. I damaged one tire so I need to be careful now,” he commented.
Elfyn Evans slipped further into the clutches of Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanperä on Saturday afternoon’s third test, dropping 0.4s to the teenage Finn to occupy fourth place but only by 4.1s now.
The Rally Sweden winner felt something strange on the same corner of the car that suffered bodywork damage when his rear-left tire delaminated on SS7. But Evans didn’t reckon he lost too much time because of it.
“I just had a bit of a strange feeling at the left rear towards the end of the stage there,” he said. “Probably only cost a few tenths.”
Takamoto Katsuta is continuing to search for improvements in his driving, but there appears to be little improvement needed as he again kept pace with Rovanperä, losing just 1.4s.
Rovanperä’s Yaris is 13.8s up the road in fifth place, with Katsuta’s margin over the car behind now standing at precisely half a minute.
That car is Esapekka Lappi who is still the lead M-Sport runner in a lonely seventh, but lost 1.6s to team-mate Teemu Suninen on SS9. His overall gap to his team-mate now stands at 9.2s.
“Yeah,” Lappi replied when asked if it was disappointed to be beaten by Suninen, “but it feels stupid to push more. I will not stay on the road and I cannot do much better.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet is now closer to the second M-Sport car of Suninen ahead rather than Gus Greensmith behind, despite losing 0.1s to Suninen on Otepää. Loubet and Suninen have been close all afternoon, with Suninen just 0.3s faster across the afternoon’s first three stages.
Greensmith, the first car into the stage, felt he “couldn’t commit” to the corners with the ruts forming so deeply into the stage. He plans to make some set-up changes for the next two stages as he expects them to be “even worse.”
He remains 10th overall, 27.5s behind Loubet who is contesting his first WRC rally in a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
Citroën’s Mads Østberg heads the WRC2 standings and leads in Estonia too, holding a 24.2s advantage over Hyundai’s Nikolay Gryazin.
Adrien Fourmaux occupies third for M-Sport, exactly eight seconds ahead of Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo pilot Pontus Tidemand.
Ole Christian Veiby was an early leader but is now out of the running, as a double puncture on SS8 forced his Hyundai i20 R5 out for the day.
Eyvind Brynildsen is fifth in class, 28.9s away from Toksport team-mate Tidemand.
Ken Torn’s hopes of a home victory in Junior WRC were ended by a double puncture on stage nine, forcing him to retire. He had been only 10.8s off the lead in third place before trouble struck.
1 Breen (Hyundai) 5m00.4s
2 Tänak (Hyundai) +0.8s
3 Rovanperä (Toyota) +3.2s
4 Ogier (Toyota) +3.4s
5 Evans (Toyota) +3.6s
6 Katsuta (Toyota) +4.6s
7 Suninen (M-Sport) +7.5s
8 Loubet (Hyundai) +7.6s
9 Lappi (M-Sport) +9.1s
10 Greensmith (M-Sport) +10.4s
Leading positions after SS9
1 Tänak (Hyundai) 1h1m24.5s
2 Breen (Hyundai) +13.8s
3 Ogier (Toyota) +22.5s
4 Evans (Toyota) +35.9s
5 Rovanperä (Toyota) +40s
6 Katsuta (Toyota) +53.8s
7 Lappi (M-Sport) +1m23.8s
8 Suninen (M-Sport) +1m33s
9 Loubet (Hyundai) +1m57.9ss
10 Greensmith (M-Sport) +2m25.4s