Sébastien Ogier made significant advances in his fight with Ott Tänak for second place on the Acropolis Rally, as Kalle Rovanperä completed a clean sweep of stage wins on the Saturday morning loop.
The final stage before Saturday’s service break was a challenging affair, with roads that featured extremely changeable grip conditions and contained several deep, muddy sections.
A tight left-hander towards the end caused significant problems for several crews. Both Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville overshot it and stalled their engines.
But the Saturday Acropolis Rally script remained the same as Rovanperä won his fourth stage from four on Saturday, beating next quickest Ogier by an impressive 6.5s.
Rovanperä’s rally lead is now a sensational 39.7s, having held an advantage of just 3.7s at the start of the day.
“Of course I feel good,” said the runaway rally leader,” especially when this was the worst stage of the loop for me.
“In the beginning I didn’t have any pace or rhythm but after that I just tried to enjoy.”
The big development on SS10 was Tänak’s lack of pace as he leaked 18.3s to Rovanperä.
Ogier was 11.8s faster and closed up to the Hyundai, which he ended up just 3.6s shy of. Tänak was not giving anything away as to why his pace relative to the frontrunners had dropped.
“Nothing is ever unfortunate,” he said. “But all OK.”
Dani Sordo, who echoed his sentiment from the previous stage that he is currently “in the middle of nothing” given the significant gaps to the podium ahead and fifth place behind, felt he was simply ‘driving very badly’ on SS10.
He was fifth fastest, losing 17.1s to stage winner Rovanperä.
In the all M-Sport squabble for fifth, Adrien Fourmaux nicked a slender 1.1s from Gus Greensmith to consolidate his position. He ended SS10 17.3s in front.
“I had two hot moments on the braking,” Fourmaux confessed.
“To have the confidence in this kind of condition is difficult. I wasn’t happy with my pacenotes so we have to improve for sure.”
Greensmith however had a big moment of his own that he felt could’ve been “a big plane crash” had there been something solid on the inside of the offending corner.
Neuville went faster than Evans for the first time on Saturday as both drivers continued their missions to salvage as many points from the Acropolis weekend as possible after problems on Friday.
Evans felt he “probably didn’t take the risk needed for a good stage” while Neuville had “the feeling I am first on the road”, claiming he had “no lines” from previous cars and wondered “what the guys in front are doing”.
Pierre-Louis Loubet and Jourdan Serderidas completed the stage before Neuville.
1 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) 11m05.2s
2 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +6.5s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +12.2s
4 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +12.8s
5 Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +17.1s
6 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +18.3s
Leading positions after SS10
1 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) 2h06m50.2s
2 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +39.7s
3 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +43.3s
4 Sordo/Carrera (Hyundai) +1m32.9s
5 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +2m44.1s
6 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +3m01.4s
7 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +5m41.7s
8 Andreas Mikkelsen/Elliott Edmondson (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +5m44.4s
9 Marco Bulacia/Marcelo der Ohannesian (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +5m54.5s
10 Yohan Rossel/Alexandre Coria (Citroën) +6m30.6s