Elfyn Evans’ irresistible form at the head of Rally Finland continued on Saturday’s third stage as he set yet another fastest time, extending his overall lead to four seconds over Craig Breen.
Evans began the day 6.1s behind the leader but moved to the head of the field on the previous test with an emphatic stage win – 4.2s faster than anybody else.
Despite feeling it “could’ve been better” on SS9, Evans took another 3.1s from Breen and 3.7s from Ott Tänak in third to steadily increase his control on the event.
Breen was aware he could do no more. “I have the choke out around my knees, I can’t do any more than that,” he said. “It was nearly a perfect stage to be honest with you, that’s maximum.”
Tänak, who’s six seconds from the lead and two seconds shy of Breen, agreed: “We have our limits and this is our limit, so I keep going on this pace.
Both Kalle Rovanperä and Esapekka Lappi have lost touch with the leading trio across Saturday morning, having been firmly within the lead group at the start of the day.
Rovanperä’s pace in particular was better on SS9 though as he punched in the second-best time, albeit 1.7s slower than his team-mate Evans.
“[It] looks to be OK but still could be better,” he said of his time.
“When the condition is like this on the small roads and there is more grip the car is working, we know it. It’s a bit more enjoyable when we have a technical stage like this.”
Rovanperä has four seconds in hand over fifth placed Lappi, doubling that advantage with an SS9 stage time that was two seconds better.
Lappi – who set an identical stage time to Tänak – also wasn’t feeling totally at one with his Toyota Yaris WRC.
“It felt very similar than before, I think we are just lacking mechanical grip and that’s it,” he said. “I think it was a good stage from us but it feels too dangerous to push more.”
For the first time on Saturday, Sébastien Ogier got the better of Thierry Neuville – who’s one spot ahead of him in sixth overall – to the tune of 1.6s.
But the gap between the pair remains at 10.4s and Neuville felt he and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe were not fully in tune on SS9.
Gus Greensmith remains comfortably clear of his M-Sport team-mate Adrien Fourmaux in eighth overall, but his stage advantage reduced to just 1.5s on SS9 as he feels his Ford Fiesta WRC “has got worse” over the morning.
“It’s hard to second guess what the car’s going to do,” he said, “it’s hard to commit to the entry because you don’t know if it’s going to snap or going to hang.”
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) 6m55s
2 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +1.7s
3 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai) +3.1s
4 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +3.7s
5 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota) +3.7s
6 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +8.1s
Leading positions after SS9
1 Evans/Martin (Toyota) 1h09m55.8s
2 Breen/Nagle (Hyundai) +4s
3 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +6s
4 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +18.6s
5 Lappi/Ferm (Toyota) +22.6s
6 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +46s
7 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +56.4s
8 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +2m26.9s
9 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +3m09.5s
10 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Volkswagen) +4m49.2s