Thierry Neuville goes into Saturday leading Croatia Rally after a consistent showing through Friday’s eight stages, but Elfyn Evans has closed the gap.
Evans had been knocking on the door of the Hyundai driver as the day progressed, and on the final stage of the day he reduced the gap further, meaning he goes into Saturday just 5.7 seconds behind.
He might have led ever since Ogier dropped down the order, but it’s not all been easy going for Neuville, who had been complaining prior to midday service that his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 was not up to scratch.
Come the end of SS8 however, he was a more optimistic character.
“It was a bit better at the end of the day and I am really happy that we had a bit more fun in the car this afternoon,” he explained.
“Hopefully we can finish in first place at the end – that would be a great achievement for the team and for us.
“We have done a decent job, but it hasn’t been easy at all.”
For Evans it has also been a successful day with little to complain about. He continued to keep on the shoulder of Neuville and took 2.7s out of the lead, winning SS8.
Going into Saturday, Evans said he’s looking forward to seeing how the fight unfolds.
“It wasn’t the strongest start to the day but after that we kept building and building and it’s been okay,” he said.
“It’s not an easy rally and there’s a long way to go. It’s going to be an interesting fight.”
Following a brief battle for third, Ott Tänak continued to hold off Esapekka Lappi and grew his advantage to 3.4s.
After his puncture in the morning, things didn’t get much better to close out Sébastien Ogier’s day, who at the stage end said he’d picked up yet another one.
“On three tires, it was not so great,” he said. “I had a puncture.”
Fortunately, the Toyota driver didn’t lose a huge amount of time and holds fifth place overnight from team-mate Takamoto Katsuta – who is 28.4s behind.
Katsuta did start the final test sixth, but managed to complete it 7.7s faster than M-Sport’s Pierre-Louis Loubet to move up a position.
Kalle Rovanperä has had a quiet and lonely day since he picked up a puncture on the second stage and goes into Saturday in eighth, 47.4s behind Loubet.
“Now that the car and the set-up is like it should be it’s quite a lot easier to enjoy the driving and be on the pace,” the reigning champion said.
“Hopefully everything works out the same tomorrow.”