Thierry Neuville joined Elfyn Evans on the Acropolis Rally’s wounded list as he battled through SS4 without power-steering in his Hyundai.
Neuville had been fifth overall, 0.8 seconds shy of team-mate Dani Sordo, before the repeat pass of Aghii Theodori but ran into problems in the tire fitting zone.
He left the zone late, earning a four-minute time penalty for arriving to the time control for SS4 24 minutes late.
Things only got worse on the stage as he completed a rough, twisty test in hot conditions while having to man-handle his i20 Coupe WRC along the road.
The Ypres Rally winner lost 1m50.9s on the stage is over six minutes down on the leader overall, with that gap only likely to balloon with no service scheduled until the end of the leg.
“It’s a big mess,” Neuville said.
“We have a lot of technical issues from this morning and now the power-steering is gone so… a day to forget.
“Two more stages to go and we won’t give up,” he promised.
Evans’s gearbox problems also continued to persist. Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala said before SS4 that he “hoped it will work until the end of the day, but we can’t guarantee that”.
He had also suggested if Evans was to be stuck in any gear, third was the one to be jammed in – not sixth.
As it transpired, that’s exactly what happened as Evans tackled the majority of SS4 with his Yaris WRC operating in third cog before holding in fourth towards the end of the stage.
While far from ideal, it did prove to be easier to manage than being in sixth for Evans as instead of dropping north of a minute as he did on SS3, he lost 30s.
“I don’t think there’s a lot we can do at the moment, but we’ll try,” he said.
Out front, Kalle Rovanperä won his second stage of the day to pull another 0.8s clear of Ott Tänak, heading the Hyundai by 3.8s overall.
Despite running first on the road, Sébastien Ogier is third and just 7.5s shy of the lead despite admitting he had not pushed on SS4.
It’s turning out to be a very positive day for Ogier given his position and the fact both of his main title rivals Neuville and Evans are in the wars.
Dani Sordo is starting to occupy a bit of no-man’s land as he trails Ogier by 15.9s but has 17.2s over Adrien Fourmaux.
Both Sordo and Fourmaux felt a bit battered on the stage; Sordo describing the conditions as “really bad”.
Fourmaux, who was sixth fastest behind M-Sport team-mate Gus Greensmith, said: “Some places we’re enjoying but I would say 75% is really hard, but it’s part of the rally this is what we expected.”
Greensmith is 5.2s behind Fourmaux in sixth overall but it wasn’t all plain-sailing, believing he’d done some front-right damage to his Fiesta WRC and he was not “too sure where it came from”.
Pierre-Louis Loubet is no longer a threat either, as the 2C Competition Hyundai driver picked up a puncture and was forced to change it.
He lost over three minutes to the stage winner and his frustration was clear to see as he completed the stage.
The leading Rally2 car is now up to seventh overall, and it’s Andreas Mikkelsen (pictured below) who heads the pack, albeit by just 0.8s over Toksport team-mate Marco Bulacia.
Chris Ingram, who has returned to Toksport – with which he won the European Rally Championship title in 2019 – has had a strong Friday so far and leads WRC3 in ninth overall, 7.4s clear of fellow ERC champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz.
Oliver Solberg had been leading both WRC2 and the Rally2 class but stopped halfway through SS4 with a reported suspension issue.
1 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) 13m10.3s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +0.8s
3 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +3.2s
4 Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +5.5s
5 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +10.7s
6 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +12s
Leading positions after SS4
1 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) 40m25.3s
2 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +3.8s
3 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +7.5s
4 Sordo/Carrera (Hyundai) +23.4s
5 Fourmaux/Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +40.6s
6 Greensmith/Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +45.8s
7 Andreas Mikkelsen/Elliott Edmondson (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +1m55s
8 Marco Bulacia/Marcelo der Ohannesian (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +1m55.8s
9 Chris Ingram/Ross Whittock (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +2m00.7s
10 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +2m08.1s