Elfyn Evans’s Acropolis Rally fell apart on SS3 as his Toyota Yaris WRC developed a gearbox problem that dropped him out of the podium places.
Evans’s run on the previous stage on Friday was undisturbed as he set the third-fastest time, which put him third overall and within two seconds of the rally lead.
But a problem manifested itself before SS3 Loutraki, as Evans missed his place in the start order for the stage, with Thierry Neuville jumping ahead of him in the queue.
Evans therefore began the test at 11.30am local time instead of 11.24am – immediately incurring a 40s time penalty – and as soon as he got underway it became clear his Yaris WRC was carrying an issue.
He was able to keep pace in higher-speed sections but on the slow corners his Toyota was simply bogging down, suggesting it was without one or several of its lower gears. A camera shot at the end of the stage showed Evans had the car stationary in sixth gear.
Co-driver Scott Martin dropped the car into road mode early on the test and the pair were forced to tackle the 12-mile stage at a compromised speed.
Evans did well to lose just 1m06.6s on the stage but with the penalty applied he lost 1m46.6s, which dropped him well outside the points-scoring positions.
But the bigger worry is there is no midday service on Friday, as crews head for a tire fitting zone after SS3 before another loop of three stages.
The timing of Evans’s drama could not have been worse either as the end-of-season run-in intensifies. Evans is 38 points adrift of championship leader Sébastien Ogier, so really needed to outscore his team-mate to keep his championship bid realistic rather than optimistic.
“Some issues, so we need to go and see if we can sort something,” a tight-lipped Evans said after SS3.
Things were far brighter for Evans’s Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanperä (pictured above) who set a blistering pace to assume the lead of the rally.
Rovanperä outpaced Ott Tänak by 5.3s to open up a three-second advantage at the head of the pack, with Ogier, despite dropping from first to third, still just 4.3s from the leader.
Tänak did not have a smooth ride and experienced some engine stalling, perhaps suggesting some of his time loss.
“The engine is stalling as normal in the twisty [sections],” he said, “and also the damper feels a bit overheating, so it’s quite some struggle to drive at the moment.”
Team-mate Thierry Neuville was still more sluggish than he would have liked on SS3 and remained fifth, 18.7s adrift of the lead, despite Evans’s problems.
“I’m not 100% confident with the behavior of the car, sometimes I lose the rear sometimes I lose the front,” he said.
“We tried some changes and it’s a little bit better, but it’s not enough.”
Neuville was overhauled by Dani Sordo, who set a stronger pace on SS3, just 2.1s shy of the quickest time set by Rovanperä. He moved up to fourth overall, 0.8s clear of Neuville, but could’ve been 10.8s clear and closer to the podium had he not copped a 10s penalty for a jump start.
M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith ended the stage sixth and seventh overall, split by 6.5s, as Greensmith leapt ahead of Pierre-Louis Loubet who, like Sordo, earned a 10s penalty for leaving the start-line too early.
A compression in the road that caught out most of the drivers affected Loubet rather badly, as it caused damage to the right-hand side of his Hyundai. However he described the moment as “nothing big”.
Oliver Solberg led the way in WRC2 in his Hyundai i20 N Rally2, holding ninth overall. He had 6.4s in hand over Andreas Mikkelsen, but it was Mikkelsen’s Toksport team-mate Marco Bulacia who was quickest on SS3. Bulacia ended the stage just three seconds behind Mikkelsen overall.
Mads Østberg’s SS2 issue transpired to be a front differential problem. He made it to the end of both of Friday’s first pair of stages but has lost several minutes, and with no midday service his misery could be compiled if he elects to keep going in the afternoon.
1 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) 13m04.4s
2 Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +2.1s
3 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +5.3s
4 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +7.4s
5 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +11.1s
6 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +16.5s
Leading positions after SS3
1 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) 27m15s
2 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +3s
3 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +4.3s
4 Sordo/Carrera (Hyundai) +17.9s
5 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +18.7s
6 Fourmaux/Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +28.6s
7 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +35.1s
8 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Florian Haut-Labourdette (Hyundai) +50.1s
9 Oliver Solberg/Aaron Johnston (Hyundai i20 N Rally2) +1m09.8s
10 Andreas Mikkelsen/Elliott Edmondson (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +1m16.2s