Elfyn Evans’ chances of winning the 2023 World Rally Championship title are all but over after the Toyota driver crashed out of the Central European Rally on stage 11.
The Welshman ran slightly wide on a right-hander and collided with a wooden building. He and Scott Martin appeared to struggle to free the GR Yaris Rally1, which was tangled with the smashed door of the building, and were forced to get out of the car and into retirement.
The initiative was already with Kalle Rovanperä after his strong start to the event, but it looked like there might still be a chance for Evans after he went fastest on the first stage of the morning loop and the Finn had an overshoot that cost him over 24 seconds as he turned round and got back underway. The mistake saw his lead slashed from 35.6 seconds to just 10.9s going into the final stage of the loop.
The drama wasn’t over though, as Rovanperä dropped a further 22 seconds in stage 11, backing off after he heard about Evans’ mistake which gifted the lead to the hard-charging Thierry Neuville, who was fastest on two out of three stages and now leads the rally by 11.1 seconds.
Away from the title battle, it hasn’t been an easy morning for Ott Tänak, even if he now finds himself in third place. On the road section to the second stage of the day, the Puma driver discovered a front-right puncture, which meant he had to fit one of their spare soft tires.
With the roads still wet, it took time for the soft rubber to generate any heat, while the artificial jump near the end of the stage knocked out the hybrid system. Despite the problems, the M-Sport driver will surely be satisfied to find himself on the podium, albeit more than a minute behind Rovanperä.
Sébastien Ogier, who was feeling unwell as the rally began, set the third fastest time on all three stages, but still doesn’t seem to be totally at one with the tricky conditions. He is making progress up the leaderboard all the same, and now finds himself in fourth place.
Takamoto Katsuta is another Toyota driver having a difficult morning. He started the day in fifth, but has now dropped to sixth. That would have been seventh if it hadn’t been for Evans’ misfortune. The driver of the fourth Yaris has complained about a lack of feeling in the car, and steadily slipped into the clutches of Teemu Suninen throughout the morning. The Hyundai man finally passed him on the final stage of the morning and now sits 2.3 seconds clear in fifth.
In Rally2, it’s been a clean sweep of stage wins for Adrien Fourmaux in the Fiesta Rally2, though the M-Sport man is not scoring points this weekend. He sits second in the overall Rally2 standings, 7.6 seconds behind the Hyundai i20 of WRC2 leader Emil Lindholm.
Nicolas Ciamin is the third-placed Rally2 driver, a further 8.7 seconds back, after he took an impressive 10.7 seconds out of Lindholm on the opening stage; passing Erik Cais along the way.
In the title fight, Gus Greensmith sits eighth of the crews registered for WRC2points, but needs to outscore Andreas Mikkelsen in order to have any hope of toppling his Toksport team-mate. Mikkelsen crashed out on Friday, but can still seal the WRC2 title, depending on other results. He went off the road again on stage 11, but managed to get to the end of the stage.