Thierry Neuville heads into the final day of Acropolis Rally Greece with a 27.9-second lead over team-mate Ott Tänak, with Dani Sordo preserving a provisional 1-2-3 finish for Hyundai.
After a dramatic day in which Sébastien Loeb retired from the lead with a broken alternator, Pierre-Louis Loubet fell out of contention with a puncture and Esapekka Lappi dropped off the podium with a fuel-related issue, Neuville has found himself in a commanding overall position.
Neuville, who hasn’t won a round of the WRC since Rally Spain last October, lost 6.3s to Tänak on SS12 but that counted for little given Neuville’s margin out front.
“It has been a great day for us,” Neuville confessed. “A bit of heart beating this afternoon, we had some trouble with the car but we survived, we are here now.
“We had some issues with the [battery] voltage, but all is solved now.”
Battery problems afflicted all three Hyundais across the afternoon, particularly on the Pyrgos test, but Tänak had further issues with a faulty differential.
“It’s still not the car it should be,” Tänak said, “but at least we are here.”
Overall it was still a positive day for the winner of the last two rounds however who climbed from sixth to second, and is set to gain a vital number of points against series leader Kalle Rovanperä who’s poised for his second low score in as many rallies.
Elfyn Evans had a bizarre stage where his time was competitive, a strong 8.2s quicker than Sordo ahead of him, yet he suffered a mysterious engine-related issue.
Off the start-line, Evans’ Yaris wasn’t fired up until it absolutely had to be, and he appeared to bog down upon initial launch.
And when he reached the stage stop control, the engine immediately died again. Before rushing away, the stage-end reporter asked if Evans had an issue at the start to which he responded: “A little bit, yeah.”
Still, Evans did make it to the end of Saturday safely in fourth, just 7.1s adrift of the podium.
Sordo won the previous stage but feared he may have overworked his tires, and that showed on the final stage of the day – Tarzan 2.
“Evans is coming, we need to keep him back,” Sordo said. “I was not really good in this stage, I don’t like a lot the stage and my tires were a bit damaged.”
Loubet battled through Saturday’s final stage with a power-steering problem, but although it cost him 29.7s to Tänak’s fastest time, it mattered little in terms of the overall classification with team-mate Craig Breen over a minute behind in sixth.
“I was very careful and my rear tires are finished so I didn’t take any risks,” Loubet assessed.
After the frustration of a puncture on Friday, Breen had a trouble-free day on Saturday when few others could say the same.
“Strangely today, when everyone else had dramas, we had absolutely none,” said Breen.
“Would’ve been nice to have that yesterday and have a nice road position today and be fighting as for sure the car’s got the speed.”
Takamoto Katsuta spun his GR Yaris Rally1 after getting the front hooked on the inside of a left hairpin – almost completing a perfect 360-degree spin in recovery but having to reverse where the road narrowed.
He heads into Sunday 54s down and in seventh place, on course to protect his immaculate record of finishing within the championship points on every rally so far this year.
Rovanperä got to the end of a difficult day without any further issues after hitting a tree on the first stage of the day. But he was far from pleased with what he’d produced on Saturday.
“It was pretty s*** to be honest,” said Rovanperä succinctly.
“It would have been a bit better if I hadn’t made the mistake, we would’ve been in the points, but it’s done now, nothing we can do about it.”
Lappi had pulled over on the road section before SS12 and attempted to fix the issues that had cost him several minutes on the previous test, to no avail. He retired after exceeding the maximum lateness of 30 minutes to any time control.