Kalle Rovanperä has begun to edge closer to the leaders on Rally Finland while, in turn, Esapekka Lappi put Ott Tänak under pressure by beating him for the first time on Saturday.
Rain has been the talk of Saturday morning so far, but Patajoki proved to be relatively dry compared to what had already unfolded in the loop. The road was wet but the skies were relatively clear, offering up relatively consistent conditions for the World Rally Championship crews.
Rovanperä has been the pick of the bunch in the WRC so far, but it’s been a somewhat muted home event for him so far. But he’s beginning to make his presence known with a second stage win in succession.
He won SS7 by 1.7 seconds over Lappi, reducing his deficit to his second-placed team-mate to just 4.8s – but Lappi equally closed up to 6.8s behind rally leader Tänak too.
He seemed far more energized at the end of SS13 in contrast to his downbeat mood at the end of the previous stage following a small mistake at a junction.
“I didn’t do such a big mistake like on the last one,” Lappi said, “I was really pissed at the end of the last stage because you do all the hard work and then you miss all the benefit at the last junction. But this was a bit better.”
“We are definitely trying, so yeah let’s see,” Tänak countered. “We keep trying.”
The gap between the top three is now just 11.6s.
Evans and Rovanperä remain locked in a battle for third place, but it’s a battle that’s ebbing away from last year’s Finland winner.
Evans began SS13 0.7s in arrears but lost 3.2s to the championship leader, extending his deficit to 3.9s overall – despite Rovanperä feeling like it was a bad stage for him.
“Not a good stage for me. I don’t know, I just don’t like this stage so much, there’s some seconds there we could take away,” he said.
Evans felt similar though: “Just couldn’t really find the confidence needed to take that last bit. Maybe a bit too careful on some of the notes as well, just not fully on it.”
Thierry Neuville’s fifth place is looking increasingly secure as he put another 3.4seconds on Takamoto Katsuta behind him, extending his overall cushion to 3.7s.
But Neuville did well to hold onto a sideways moment that had his Hyundai sliding wide on a sweeping left-hander and dipping its rear wheels into the outside ditch.
Asked about that at stage-end, Neuville grinned: “All OK, just a bit surprised by the grip. I thought the corner was ending but actually it was continuing a bit, so I had to keep it sideways.
“Anyway we are continuing on our rhythm, it’s not a big push but we’re enjoying it more than yesterday.”
For his part, Katsuta struggled to find confidence in the conditions and was driving with an err of caution given he has never contested this loop of stages before at rally speeds.
“Next pass it should be OK,” he promised, “as now I know which corners are the bad corners and which ones are OK.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet is seventh overall ahead of M-Sport’s top hope in the manufacturers’ standings following Craig Breen’s retirement, Gus Greensmith.
Just 7.6s splits the pair of Pumas – a gap that reduced by one second on SS13 despite Greensmith feeling his driving was “pretty crap”.
“I didn’t do this one last year so I was bit careful in places,” Loubet said, “but it’s OK, it’s still long and we need to stay on the road. It’s easy to do a mistake.”
Their team-mate for the weekend, Jari Huttunen, suffered yet another setback following his fuel pressure problem on Friday afternoon.
Huttunen gave up close to a minute on SS13 as the power-steering system failed, just as it had for Adrien Fourmaux’s similar car on the previous day.