Elfyn Evans has responded to Ott Tänak’s Croatia Rally charge, extending his lead by 4.3 seconds with one more stage remaining on Saturday.
Tänak had been mounting the pressure on the Toyota as the afternoon progressed, but that was halted as Evans laid down a good time to rebuild his advantage.
But Tänak was left frustrated at the end of the second pass of Ravna Gora – Skrad, confirming he’d been tackling a problem on his Ford Puma Rally1.
“What a disaster,” he surmised.
“It’s fine… the handbrake is not working and things like this. It’s tricky when things are like this.”
That will be good news for Evans who will be keen to end the day on a high by growing his lead even further.
“I didn’t think it would be enough again to be honest,” he said. “I felt like I was pushing harder in the previous one – so maybe that’s where I’m going wrong!”
Esapekka Lappi showed promising signs early on in the second loop, but that pace has begun to diminish.
That was puzzling for the Hyundai driver who said he doesn’t know where the pace of those around him is coming from.
“It’s not been too difficult, actually,” he said. “But I cannot understand the pace of the others.”
Kalle Rovanperä’s pursuit of teammate Sébastien Ogier continued, with the gap decreasing once more to a meagre 1.3s.
But as has been the norm so far throughout the weekend, the reigning champion pointed out the difficult conditions throughout the route thanks to the loose gravel and mud on the surface.
“It was not too bad,” he said. “For sure, some sections are really bad but some are okay with just a few cuts and a lot of lines on the road.”
However, Ogier wasn’t too concerned with the ever-lowering gap and was relatively pleased with his SS15 performance.
“I had a good stage,” he said.
“It was difficult to go faster because it was so dirty. I’m happy with my stage.”
There was a positive outcome for the pair’s team-mate Takamoto Katsuta, he managed to jump up to sixth position at the cost of Pierre-Louis Loubet, who just couldn’t fend off the GR Yaris Rally1 any longer.
The gap between the pair became 2.5s as Loubet admitted things just weren’t working for him.
“It wasn’t working at all unfortunately,” he explained.
“I couldn’t maintain the temperature in the tires and there was no grip.”