There was drama everywhere you looked, but Elfyn Evans emerged unscathed to win SS6 of Rally Portugal, extending his rally lead.
Loeb had been the first heavyweight driver to run into problems on the stage before, but both Ott Tänak and Sébastien Ogier ran into problems with damaged tires on the Góis 2 test , costing them valuable time.
But while the two World Rally champions ran into issues Evans reveled in the conditions, completing the stage in 13m12.6seconds to extend his rally lead to 5.8s.
Thierry Neuville remains second overall, having also been able to navigate the 12.01 mile stage cleanly, while Kalle Rovanperä and Gus Greensmith took advantage of the misfortune of others to move up to third and fifth respectively overall.
But, one of the stars of the stage was M-Sport’s Pierre-Louis Loubet. Loubet was second fastest through the stage, just 2.8s shy of Evans’ effort, and that performance moved him up six positions into fourth overall, 25.8s off the rally lead.
Ogier – who had been third in the rally before the start of the stage – was forced to change a wheel after the tire came off the rim midway through the stage, costing him over two minutes.
He’s now 11th, with a potential rally victory looking increasingly unlikely.
Hyundai driver Tänak also ran into similar problems but he managed to get his tire changed in swift fashion, meaning he completed the stage 19 seconds faster than Ogier, but he too has dropped down the order to 10th.
Their issues promoted Hyundai’s Dani Sordo to sixth, while Takamoto Katsuta remains seventh.
But despite holding onto seventh position, it wasn’t plain sailing for the Toyota driver, after he lost time when he spun on the stage, narrowly avoiding falling down a bank.
“I was too far inside and hooked the ditch too much,” said Katsuta. “I had to stop because there was a steep ditch.
“The stages are in very bad condition so I don’t know who can enjoy this rally.”
Craig Breen also struggled for pace due to a puncture and ended up 32.6s slower than Evans on Góis, and he’s eighth, 48s off the lead, while his M-Sport team-mate Adrien Fourmaux consolidated ninth.
“This is what I expected,” said Fourmaux at the end of the stage.
“The conditions were really difficult and we don’t have any more spare tires, so we need to get through the stages. We are here with four wheels.”
Teemu Suninen is the lead WRC2 driver. He was 10th fastest on Góis, beating Andreas Mikkelsen by 2.3s and is currently 12th overall.
- Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) 13m12.6s
- Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (M-Sport Ford) +2.8s
- Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +3.7s
- Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +7.9s
- Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +8.8s
- Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +28.7s
- Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +32.6ss
- Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +41.0s
- Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +1m43.1s
- Sébastien Ogier/Benjamin Veillas (Toyota) +2m02.4s
Leading positions after SS6
- Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) 59m04.3s
- Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +5.8s
- Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +18.7s
- Pierre-Louis Loubet/Landais (M-Sport Ford) +25.8s
- Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +29.2s
- Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +32.7s
- Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +45.1s
- Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +48.0s
- Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +1m23.00s
- Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +1m53.9s