Kalle Rovanperä is leaving nothing to chance as he finished second on Sunday’s opening stage of Croatia Rally to extend his rally lead even further.
Rovanperä and Ott Tänak were split by 19.9 seconds going into the final four stages of the rally, but having opted for hard compound tires, compared to Tänak’s softs, Rovanperä managed to find plenty of grip to end Trakošćan – Vrbno just 0.8s down on Esapekka Lappi’s stage-winning time.
With Tänak’s tire gamble having failed, leaving him 12s off the ultimate pace, it means Rovanperä now holds a 31.1s lead.
“The tires aren’t working. It’s quite dry,” said Tänak.
“We were scared quite a lot with the possible rain and now it’s quite sunny, but we had to take the gamble.”
While the fight for the lead seems to be drifting, the battle for third is hotting up. Thierry Neuville and Craig Breen were both fighting hard on the 8.17-mile test.
Neuville was half a second faster than Breen in the first split and gained another two tenths in the second. But Breen regained some time in the final split to ensure he only lost four tenths on the stage, meaning the pair are now separated by 4.5s.
“I left a good bit of time in there,” commented Breen at the end of the stage.
“I was a bit too cautious in places and didn’t let it flow in some of the wider places. The race is still on!”
Elfyn Evans remains a distant fifth, but Takamoto Katsuta strung together one of his best stages of the rally so far, going fourth fastest, four seconds down on the fastest time.
Gus Greensmith set an identical time to Evans on Trakošćan – Vrbno, with the pair completing the stage in 7m13.1s, but the M-Sport driver admitted he wasn’t pushing too hard.
“We’re saving the tires!” He said. “All fine – it’s dry and quite abrasive, so I think the softs would be hard to maintain in that stage. It’s all cutting up at the end.”
Yohan Rossel has extended his WRC2 lead even further, after Nikolay Gryazin lost a considerable amount of time on SS17.
Rossell was 8.6s faster than his rival, meaning his lead has extended to 43.7s in the battle for seventh overall, while Kajetan Kajetanowicz is a further 11.1s back, third in class.
1 Esapekka Lappi/Jenne Ferm (Toyota) 7m05.8s
2 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +0.8s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +2.7s
4 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +3.1s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +4.0s
6 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +7.3s
7 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +7.3s
8 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (M-Sport Ford) +11.9s
9 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +12.0s
10 Yohan Rossel/Valentin Sarreaud (Citroën) +34.6s
Leading positions after SS17
1 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) 2h22m01.1s
2 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +31.1s
3 Breen/Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +1m15.7s
4 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1m20.2s
5 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +2m14.7s
6 Katsuta/Johnston (Toyota) +5m50.9s
7 Rossel/Sarreaud (Citroën) +8m58.4s
8 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Škoda) +9m42.1s
9 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Škoda) +9m53.2s
10 Emil Lindholm/Reeta Hämäläinen (Škoda) +10m31.8s