Thierry Neuville scored his first stage win of Rally Estonia, potentially as a result of a tactical ploy from his Hyundai team, to pull even further clear of Sébastien Ogier in third place.
The Vastsemõisa stage was a shorter, sharper test than the three that preceded it on the Saturday afternoon loop, but it was no less of a challenge.
Ruts had been the problem on the first two tests, but dust proved to be the issue in the forest sections of SS17 – offsetting the disadvantage Gus Greensmith would normally have as first car on the road.
Greensmith’s time was therefore very competitive as his vision was not impaired. He went 5.8s quicker than his sixth-placed M-Sport team-mate Teemu Suninen and 9.5s better than Pierre-Louis Loubet in seventh.
Hyundai spotted this developing problem and Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja delayed their start time, which afforded team-mate Neuville a clearer run on the stage.
Neuville began the stage six minutes after Ogier – with whom he is disputing third place – and therefore faced less hanging dust than Ogier, who battled through plumes from team-mate Elfyn Evans’ Yaris.
Ogier beat Evans by 1.9s to consolidate his fourth position but Neuville managed to steal another 3.4s from Ogier, extending the gap between the pair to 18.6s.
The sacrificed Tänak – who won six of the seven previous stages on Saturday – stopped the clocks 0.6s slower than Neuville, but the time and indeed the penalties he racked up were irrelevant following his retirement on Friday.
Rally leader Kalle Rovanperä was three seconds off Neuville’s pace, but his lead was extended again to 46.3s as Craig Breen was only fifth fastest, 1.1s adrift of Rovanperä’s time.
Stage winner Neuville is 35.2s behind Breen in third.
A short one-mile blast around Tartu is set to conclude Saturday’s running.
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 4m16.2s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +0.6s
3 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +3s
4 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +3.4s
5 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai) +4.1s
6 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +5.3s
Leading positions after SS16
1 Rovanperä/Halttunen 2h16m03.6s
2 Breen/Nagle +46.3s
3 Neuville/Wydaeghe +1m21.5s
4 Ogier/Ingrassia +1m40.1s
5 Evans/Martin +2m02.2s
6 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (M-Sport Ford) +6m13.3s
7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Florian Haut-Labourdette (Hyundai) +7m28.4s
8 Alexey Lukyanuk/Yaroslav Fedorov (Škoda) +8m14.9s
9 Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (Škoda) +9m13.6s
10 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) +9m39s