Both the leader of Acropolis Rally Greece and the leader of the World Rally Championship ran into trouble on SS9, as Sébastien Loeb failed to even make the stage and Kalle Rovanperä hit a tree.
Loeb’s rally lead grew from 1.7 seconds to 19s on Saturday morning’s opener as he went second fastest and M-Sport team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet fell backwards, swallowed by Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville.
But immediately after the stop-line, it became clear Loeb was in trouble as his Puma Rally1 simply rolled away rather than firing up and driving off.
Loeb and Isabelle Galmiche were soon underneath the hood, taking a look at the car’s alternator belt.
Due to start the stage at 10.08am, Loeb and Galmiche were nowhere to be seen and that promoted Thierry Neuville into the lead of the rally.
Despite valiant efforts to bodge a repair, Loeb eventually called it a day as he simply ran out of time to make it to SS9 on time.
A disappointed Loeb got on the phone to explain that he’d run out of time to fix the fault.
“Now I just managed to open the alternator to move it. I should be able to get it [the belt] on and try to get the tension but the access is very difficult. I didn’t remove. I can fix it but it takes time.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet would have been left to pick up the pieces for M-Sport and fight the Hyundais for the podium places, except he too ran into trouble.
A pair of career-first WRC stage wins had put Loubet in the thick of the lead fight on Friday but a front-left puncture dropped him over a minute and down to seventh place.
Meanwhile live onboard cameras picked up Rovanperä ailing through the stage, the rear of the car twitching around and crabbing to suggest that the rear suspension was damaged.
Pictures from aboard Elfyn Evans’ Toyota revealed that the entire tailgate was missing from Rovanperä’s GR Yaris Rally1, and that the rear-left was indeed knocked out of alignment.
Action replays then presented the full story. Rovanperä had drifted wide on a tight right-hander and smacked a tree with the rear of his Toyota – causing the damage that led to his seven-minute time loss.
Neuville won the stage by a strong 8.2s over Hyundai team-mate Ott Tänak, and the pair are now first and second overall – giving Hyundai a 1-2 despite starting Saturday with no cars in the podium places.
Neuville’s lead is 18.6s with Esapekka Lappi 3.9s shy of Tänak in third.
Loubet’s puncture moved Dani Sordo up to fourth, Evans to fifth and Gus Greensmith to sixth.
Takamoto Katsuta survived a half-spin on SS9 to hold Craig Breen at bay in their battle for position, leading Breen by just 3.4s.
But Breen is now ninth and inside the points following Loeb and Rovanperä’s problems.