Craig Breen has won his first World Rally Championship stage for M-Sport Ford as Thierry Neuville’s Rally Sweden victory bid was hampered by an overshoot.
Breen is opening the road on Saturday due to his off into the snow on Friday, but set an impressive pace on Umeå – a stage that included several sections of Friday evening’s Umeå Sprint stage – that concluded the Saturday morning loop.
Breen won the stage by just 0.2 seconds over rally leader Kalle Rovanperä.
“We made a couple of changes before the stage and the car felt a lot better so I need to keep making steps like that,” said Breen, before realizing he had won his first test in a Puma.
Rovanperä was far more unhappy after SS11, admitting he was “not happy with my drive I made so many mistakes, some stupid ones”.
But Rovanperä was quickest of the leading quartet on the rally, outpacing team-mate Elfyn Evans by 0.8s to lead him by 4.8s in what is now a Toyota 1-2-3 with Esapekka Lappi 12s shy of the lead.
Neuville had been third before SS11 but has slipped to fourth, 3.1s behind Lappi after making a mistake.
“I just went straight on the first braking and after that something was strange, the car was slowed down all the time by the hybrid system, I couldn’t get the speed,” Neuville explained.
“The Toyotas were really, really fast this morning, I couldn’t match the speed to be honest but we are still here and we are trying.”
Toyota Next Generation driver Takamoto Katsuta has produced a strong performance across the morning, and has quietly begun to apply pressure to Hyundai’s Oliver Solberg ahead as well.
Katsuta started Saturday 50.8s behind Solberg but was quicker on all three of Saturday morning’s stages to close to 32.1s behind the fifth placed i20 N Rally1.
While Katsuta declared that “everything’s fine”, Solberg certainly could not say the same.
“I don’t know, I honestly don’t know why I’m driving very bad today,” said a frustrated and bemused Solberg.
“I don’t have any confidence. Yesterday was very fast but today I don’t know what happened. I need to try something else.”
Adrien Fourmaux has continued to repel M-Sport team-mate Gus Greensmith in their battle for seventh spot.
Greensmith beat Fourmaux by 7.5s on Saturday’s opener but lost time on both SS10 and SS11 to lie 12.3s adrift at midday service.
“The last stage [SS10] felt really nice but the time was rubbish, and the first stage [SS8, as SS9 was canceled] didn’t feel so good and the time was OK,” Greensmith rued.
“In there was quite tricky, just not hooking it up but the sun’s shining, conditions are nice so it’s not all bad.”
Fourmaux, who has had a barren run of crashes recently, has adopted a cautious approach all weekend and so far it is paying off with no marks on his Ford Puma Rally1.
Ole Christian Veiby had grabbed the lead of WRC2 from Andreas Mikkelsen on the previous stage, but Mikkelsen’s lead has been restored on Saturday morning’s final test – his Škoda 4.8s ahead of Veiby’s Volkswagen.
Before learning why Veiby had lost time, Mikkelsen predicted that “I guess he missed in the first braking like yesterday”, referencing an overshoot for Veiby on Friday evening, and it turned out he was almost bang on the money.
“I struggled with the car in the junctions there is something with the mapping where the revs are going down so I had half a spin because of that,” said Veiby.
“I lost some seconds on that but otherwise all OK. Let’s go out there and grab that lead back again.”
Mikkelsen however isn’t too stressed: “We had a clean stage, trying to drive fast but I know the ditch is not an option so always a funny combination!”
The two Norwegians are ninth and 10th overall, over 20s ahead of Nikolay Gryazin who completes the WRC2 podium at this stage.
1 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) 6m08.0s
2 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +0.2s
3 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +1.0s
4 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +1.0s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +1.4s
6 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +3.3s
7 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota) +3.4s
8 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +4.7s
9 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai) +7.4s
10 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +11.2s
Leading positions after SS11
1 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) 1h23m58.2s
2 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +4.8s
3 Lappi/Ferm (Toyota) +12.0s
4 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +15.1s
5 Solberg/Edmondson (Hyundai) +51.5s
6 Katsuta/Johnston (Toyota) +1m23.6s
7 Fourmaux/Coria (M-Sport Ford) +2m01.9s
8 Greensmith/Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +2m14.2s
9 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Škoda) +4m17.4s
10 Ole Christian Veiby/Stig Rune Skjaermoen (Volkswagen) +4m22.2s