Elfyn Evans leads Ypres Rally by just 0.6 seconds after Ott Tänak became the third different stage winner in as many stages, while Takamoto Katsuta ran into mechanical trouble.
Kalle Rovanperä had led the rally after the opening stage but spectacularly rolled out of the contest on stage two, promoting Toyota team-mate Evans to the head of the field.
But Evans lost six tenths to Rally Finland winner Tänak on SS3, and therefore holds the exact same advantage overall.
“Not the best,” said Evans, describing his run, “a couple of little slip-ups in a hairpin or so. Nothing too major but all counts.”
Tänak wasn’t the happiest of campers though after being scared something would snap at the rear in the fast sections.
“After the first Mickey Mouse at the start we went on the fast; I had something broken on the rear,” he said, before cheekily adding. “In the end I realized it was probably just the car so it’s normal.”
Team-mate Thierry Neuville was just 0.1s slower on the third stage, but similarly unhappy with his Hyundai.
“We had a clean stage but on a junction, yeah, we were a bit sideways, but I’m fighting with the car at the moment, to be honest,” said Neuville.
“Compared to last year it’s not so enjoyable. You can’t judge where to brake.”
Katsuta has had a troubled Ypres so far, with a wide moment and overshoot on the first two stages. But his pace was far more encouraging throughout the majority of SS3 before the very end where a large clunking sound spelt disaster.
Katsuta was heard shouting “gearbox” over the intercom to co-driver Aaron Johnston and the car began to coast to a halt, pulling up just meters from the yellow boards that signal the end of the stage is near.
Using his cunning, Katsuta engaged electric mode on his Toyota (which only has one forward-motion gear) and brought the car to the end of the stage, although not before over 1m20s had been lost.
At the end of the stage, Katsuta wasn’t convinced he’d be able to go any further.
“We try [to fix it] but not sure,” he said. “It’s a shame, but OK.”
Esapekka Lappi’s fourth place was stolen by the continually impressive Adrien Fourmaux, and he may yet be under threat from another M-Sport driver in Craig Breen, who produced a much stronger performance on SS3 – only three tenths from the ultimate pace.
Lappi is just 2.4s up on Breen and 0.1s behind Fourmaux.
“I don’t have any confidence,” said Lappi.
“On the junctions I’m pretty OK, maybe slow over there but at least I’m in control, but in fourth or fifth gear [corners] I have no control.”
Fourmaux added: “I didn’t expect that [to pass Lappi], I just tried to drive sensibly I would say. It’s a really good time, I have really good confidence with the car.”
He was an impressive 0.8s off the pace.
Gus Greensmith confessed to DirtFish before the event that he got lost twice on recce, and it turned out that was on SS3. He and co-driver Jonas Andersson had therefore taken precautions for the rally itself.
“On the recce there was this one corner where both times I went the wrong, so I to put in my notes for Jonas to shout ‘go left, don’t go right’ and we did,” Greensmith said, laughing on the stage when he came to the corner.
“But the stage felt better than the time is so a little bit disappointed.”
He’s seventh overall, 11.5s up on Oliver Solberg.