Ott Tänak and Kalle Rovanperä set exactly the same stage time on SS17 of 24 on Rally Finland, keeping Tänak in the lead by over 10 seconds.
With Esapekka Lappi slipping backwards due to a broken windshield obscuring his vision and hampering his stage times, Rally Finland is shaping up to be a two-horse race between Tänak and Rovanperä.
The pair were split by 11.5 seconds heading onto SS17, the penultimate stage of Saturday, and despite 8.5 miles of flat-out rallying, they left the stage split by the same margin – both setting a 6m25.2s stage time.
“Works perfectly for me, no worries,” Tänak said of the shared stage win. But more encouragingly he seemed happier with his Hyundai.
“I had a good feeling in this stage, car is working OK.”
Rovanperä wasn’t quite throwing in the towel, but he said he’s “not so confident” he can overhaul Tänak to win.
“Ott is fast,” he said. “There is a limit with these cars. If he is on the limit I cannot do much more.
“On this one I was not careful but I was a bit more sensible – a lot of loose stones, a lot of bad hits, I also want to get to the end of this day.”
Lappi did well to finish third fastest given his windshield issue, dropping 2.8s to the stage winners.
“It’s surprisingly OK,” he said. “I cannot see where to put the car on the line like at the junctions, I don’t see where the line is and I’m all the time on the loose gravel and the acceleration is so bad.
“Same on the crests, I don’t know where to put the front tires. It’s just guessing all the time.”
Elfyn Evans has little to fight for in fourth place, but there was a scare as he reached the end of the stage with his rear-right wheel sitting at a slightly strange angle.
“We felt a bit of a knock, so we need to see,” he said.
Gus Greensmith has been in his element on Saturday afternoon in Finland, really enjoying driving some of the most exhilarating stages in the world.
There was another expression of joy on SS17, a joyful “woo hoo” as he slid through one of the final corners, looking through his side window as he powered round.
And there was joy to be found on the timesheets as he moved ahead of Pierre-Louis Loubet into seventh spot, beating his M-Sport team-mate by 4.6s to lead by 2.2s.
Loubet was pragmatic: “He is doing very well,” he said, “I was thinking my stage was not so bad. Congrats to him because I think it’s a good time.”
Ahead of the duo, Thierry Neuville’s hold on fifth place is looking increasingly secure. He leads Takamoto Katsuta by 9.8s.
Their stage-end comments were remarkably similar to the previous test. Neuville, who felt SS16 was his first clean and smooth stage of the rally so far, said: “We had another clean stage, I really enjoyed that last section on this stage it’s really beautiful.”
Meanwhile Katsuta struggled with his Toyota bottoming out, and had a similar experience on SS17.
“It feels like we are touching the ground like hell,” he said.
“I expected it to be smoother this stage but it was very rough, it wasn’t so comfortable driving here. It’s really hard to find the right pace.”