Elfyn Evans has strengthened his grip of Ypres Rally Belgium, extending his lead to 2.3 seconds over Ott Tänak as heavy rain cruelly dumped Adrien Fourmaux from fourth to eighth.
Evans had shadowed World Rally Championship-leading team-mate Kalle Rovanperä after the first stage of the rally, but when Rovanperä crashed out Evans was left at the front of the pack.
Hyundai’s Tänak had closed to just six tenths behind after SS3, but a strong run from Evans on SS4 – where he went 1.7s quicker than Tänak and 1.5s faster than third overall Thierry Neuville – allowed Evans to create some breathing space heading into service.
“I found a better balance between pushing and being clean. Happy enough with my run but obviously it’s still early days,” he said.
Toyota Next Generation’s Takamoto Katsuta had run into gearbox trouble at the end of the previous stage, but did manage to make and complete SS4 – albeit two minutes slower than Evans.
Stuck in third gear, Katsuta was hampered particularly in the slow corners and junctions where he had to engage electric-only mode to build up enough speed to coax the car back into motion.
Katsuta was at least the last car to be unaffected by falling rain. Craig Breen was the first to encounter the shower.
“About halfway through the stage it started to fall very heavy actually,” said Breen, “but the speed wasn’t anything fantastic before that.”
Esapekka Lappi admitted the grip “was better than expected” but next on the road, Gus Greensmith, certainly couldn’t say the same as the rain began to bucket down.
As he crossed the stage-finish, Greensmith commented: “It sums up my luck that for the past 18 months.”
“I saw EP go off in the dry and then two minutes later it started to rain, so I had to wait there and think ‘ah great’,” Greensmith elaborated. “But it is what it is.”
Team-mate Adrien Fourmaux and Oliver Solberg were both similarly affected by the downpour, Solberg losing 13.7s even to Greensmith and 43.9s to stage winner Evans.
“Nothing frustrates me anymore,” Solberg said. “It was like ice.”
Fourmaux was the biggest loser though. He was comfortably the slowest Rally1 driver other than Katsuta as the M-Sport driver had to tip-toe through the stage. Fourmaux was powerless to defend the fourth position he had worked hard to claim over the rest of the morning.
Dropping over a minute to the quickest time, Fourmaux therefore fell behind Lappi, Breen, Greensmith and Solberg into eighth place.
“It’s always the same – it was similar in Finland and Estonia. All the time we get the rain at the end,” Fourmaux said.
“Honestly I couldn’t do anything other than go off the road. All the job I did this morning is lost but it’s like that.”