Thierry Neuville has won the penultimate stage of Rally Estonia but started it one-minute late, incurring a 10-second penalty as Kalle Rovanperä edged closer to victory.
Neuville is running in third overall, 20.7s ahead of Sébastien Ogier following his stage-winning performance but that gap actually stands at 10.7s due to the penalty.
The Hyundai driver beat fourth-placed Ogier by just 0.1s on the stage, but when asked why he had started the stage late and if it was some sort of tactic, Neuville replied “I don’t know what tactics that could be” before swearing in French and driving off.
Regardless, the situation hasn’t affected the overall results as Rovanperä leads the way from Craig Breen by 54.6s and Neuville remains third.
Sunday has been a relaxed day for the frontrunners with little left to dispute, but the second pass of Elva was taken down yet another notch as tire saving became the priority for the end-of-event powerstage which follows.
This was most clear on the rallycross track section at the end of the stage, where drivers had been flicking their machines around the asphalt bends on the first pass, but were neat, tidy and conservative on the repeat run.
Ott Tänak and fifth-placed Elfyn Evans both confessed this was their thinking, and their drop in pace opened the door for Teemu Suninen to steal a fourth-fastest time.
Pierre-Louis Loubet is seventh, a shave under two minutes behind Suninen.
Andreas Mikkelsen’s WRC2 lead isn’t comfortable but does look safe at 15.2s ahead of the powerstage.
The Toksport Škoda edged rival Mads Østberg by 0.8s on SS23, but Østberg didn’t “know what to say” after a weekend he described as “never ending”.
“I have big issues with my brakes, we went off into the stage into some fence so it’s just crazy, it’s a crazy weekend,” he said.
Marco Bulacia has kept up his impressive turn of pace, winning the stage again in WRC2, but the pressure from behind in his fight for third has been relieved as Adrien Fourmaux made an error.
The M-Sport driver got hooked into the ruts on a quick right-hander and was spat off on the inside of the bend and into a field, perilously close to a nearby lake.
He recovered the moment but dropped 16s to Bulacia to now trail the third-placed Toksport driver by 22.1s.
Alexey Lukyanuk leads WRC3 ahead of the final stage, sitting a fine eighth overall on his first rally with a Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo.
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 5m55.1s
2 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +0.1s
3 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +1.3s
4 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (M-Sport Ford) +3.0s
5 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +3.3s
6 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai) +3.5s
Leading positions after SS23
1 Rovanperä/Halttunen 2h45m27.5s
2 Breen/Nagle +54.6s
3 Neuville/Wydaeghe +1m19.1s
4 Ogier/Ingrassia +1m29.8s
5 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +2m12.1s
6 Suninen/Markkula (M-Sport Ford) +6m42.8s
7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Florian Haut-Labourdette (Hyundai) +8m40.9s
8 Alexey Lukyanuk/Yaroslav Fedorov (Škoda) +9m29.2s
9 Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (Škoda) +10m21.6s
10 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) +10m36.8s