Sébastien Ogier edged even closer to Ott Tänak’s second place on the Acropolis Rally, breaking Kalle Rovanperä’s stranglehold of Saturday stage wins with his first success of the day.
Ogier lost ground to Tänak across the majority of the first loop of four stages, but closed up dramatically on SS10 after Hyundai’s leading contender recorded a strangely off-color time.
Tänak has been vocal about not quite feeling at one with his i20 Coupe WRC throughout the Acropolis Rally, and is aware that he needs to push to keep tabs with the Toyotas.
He admitted his drive on SS11 “was a bit on the limit but we managed so it’s OK” but he shipped 1.1s to Ogier, meaning his advantage was whittled down to just 2.5s.
“It’s been a good stage, I enjoyed it more than this morning,” Ogier admitted.
“[The] grip was more consistent and car was more enjoyable to drive.”
Ogier won the second pass of Pavilani by that margin of 1.1s, as Rovanperä stopped the clocks 6.2s slower than the championship leader.
With a large lead – now 34.6s – to protect that was no big disaster, although Rovanperä appeared to be disappointed to have lost as much ground as he did.
“Not happy with this stage,” he said. “It was difficult with two spare wheels.
“A bit more difficult than I expected, on the slow and narrow part it felt really lazy.”
Adrien Fourmaux continued to resist the pressure from Gus Greensmith, strengthening his hold on fifth place by outpacing his M-Sport team-mate by 2.8s on SS11.
Fourmaux now enjoys a 20.1s cushion and was happy that a differential change during service appeared to have paid dividends.
“We changed something on the set-up during the service and it’s much better,” he said, before confirming that change was on the Fiesta WRC’s diff.
Dani Sordo was beaten by both Fourmaux and Greensmith on the second pass of Pavilani, representing a drop-off in pace in his Hyundai.
But Sordo is firmly camped in no-man’s land with substantial time gaps ahead and behind, so he’s now aiming to consolidate his fourth place – although there was a brief scare on SS11 when his windshield momentarily fogged up.
Elfyn Evans is now up to seventh, boosting past WRC2 competitors Andreas Mikkelsen and Marco Bulacia on the previous test as they were given a notional time as the stage was canceled after the World Rally Cars had passed through for spectator safety.
It is unlikely Evans will make any more ground – unless there is drama ahead – as he is over two minutes behind the two M-Sport Fords. He was fourth fastest on SS11.
Thierry Neuville is on a similar trajectory and is knocking on the door of the top 10, running in between an intense WRC3 battle that is currently led by Yohan Rossel. Neuville is just 14.8s shy of a points-scoring position in 11th.
1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) 19m10.6s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +1.1s
3 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +6.2s
4 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +8s
5 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +11.2s
6 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +17.3s
Leading positions after SS11
1 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) 2h26m07s
2 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +34.6s
3 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +37.1s
4 Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +1m48.4s
5 Fourmaux/Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +2m55.2s
6 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +3m15.3s
7 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +5m43.5s
8 Andreas Mikkelsen/Elliott Edmondson (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +6m23s
9 Marco Bulacia/Marcelo der Ohannesian (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +6m26.2s
10 Yohan Rossel/Alexandre Coria (Citroën) +7m25.8s