Sébastien Ogier took a decisive step towards 2021 Monza Rally victory by outpacing World Rally Championship rival by 4.1 seconds on the final closed-road stage of the event.
The lead has changed hands between Evans and Ogier on each of the last three stages; Ogier retaking it from Evans on the previous test.
There would be no trading on SS11 Selvino 2 though as Ogier extended his 1.1s advantage to 5.2s ahead of five further circuit stages across the next two days.
“That’s a great time from him to be fair,” conceded Evans. “Felt like a good run for me but struggled towards the end, car moving around quite a lot.”
As it stands, Ogier is well on track to claim an eighth world championship title and sign off his full-time career in style.
Dani Sordo is a distant third but has 18.5s in hand over Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville, taking 2.2s out of Neuville on the final mountain stage of the rally.
Neuville had been third but crashed on the first pass of Selvino, causing some front-end damage which forced him to drive with a bit in reserve.
Oliver Solberg is by no means under imminent threat from Takamoto Katsuta behind, but Katsuta beat Solberg by 3.7s on SS11 to close to 17.3s behind in sixth.
But Solberg, competing with Elliott Edmondson for the first time, had an explanation for his drop in pace.
“I drove very, very, very clean and very slow,” he said.
“I had to really take care of my tires because they were on the limit at the start of the stage. The time loss is quite small.”
Teemu Suninen overcame a heart-stopping moment early on Selvino as he outbraked himself for a hairpin and clipped the outside Armco barrier with the rear of his Hyundai, rearranging the rear-left louvre and bending the edge of his rim.
It didn’t unsettle him though as he was immediately back into his rhythm, even if he “was taking it a bit carefully” after that moment.
“But I’m getting a bit of a better feeling with this car,” Suninen added on a more positive note.
He pulled further clear of Gus Greensmith behind him too, extending his advantage over eighth place by 7.1s to head his old M-Sport team-mate to 10.5s.
Greensmith has battled with brake problems on Saturday morning which he hasn’t been able to resolve.
“Did some skids but it’s been a pretty s***** morning,” he surmised.
M-Sport stablemate Adrien Fourmaux – who is first on the road on Saturday following an SS3 crash on Friday – set a good pace on SS11, beating Suninen, Greensmith and Kalle Rovanperä who admitted it was “a shame” his final closed-road rally stage in a World Rally Car was done at a controlled pace.
Saturday afternoon’s itinerary of two stages takes place within the confines of the Monza circuit while all three of Sunday’s tests are also at Monza.
1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) 16m07.6s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +4.1s
3 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai) +5.4s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +7.6s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +10.5s
6 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai) +14.2s
Leading positions after SS11
1 Ogier/Ingrassia 1h54m58.5s
2 Evans/Martin +5.2s
3 Sordo/Carrera +33.4s
4 Neuville/Wydaeghe +51.9s
5 Solberg/Edmondson +1m17.7s
6 Katsuta/Johnston +1m35.0s
7 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Hyundai) +2m02.4s
8 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +2m12.9s
9 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Haltunnen (Toyota) +3m15.8s
10 Yohan Rossel/Jacques-Julien Renucci (Citroën) +7m16.5s