Kalle Rovanperä ended Saturday on Rally New Zealand comfortably out front, 29 seconds ahead of Toyota team-mate Sébastien Ogier – the driver he looks set to succeed as World Rally champion.
Over the course of the afternoon as the rain has continued to batter the stages, Rovanperä has been in a league of his own.
Although he was denied the clean sweep of stage wins on the second pass by M-Sport’s Craig Breen, Rovanperä is in prime position to finally put this year’s world championship title out the reach of his rivals if he scores well on the event-closing powerstage.
“Great day, I can be happy with what we did on those really difficult conditions, we pushed quite hard,” he said.
“I backed off on this one and immediately it felt s***, I did not enjoy it all.”
Ogier simply hasn’t had an answer for his team-mate’s pace, but aside from a 10s penalty earned for checking into SS12 late it was a clean day for the eight-time world champion who’s on course for his first WRC podium finish since January.
“We are in a position to fight for a good result for the team, so that’s not bad at all,” said Ogier.
Ott Tänak had been firmly in the mix to win in New Zealand until he rapidly slipped back on Saturday afternoon. The 2019 world champion remained tight-lipped on what his issues were, but he was clearly not totally at-one with his i20.
Asked what positives he could take from his day, Tänak was almost lost for words.
“What can I say?” he said. “Why do we need to find positives all the time from negatives?”
Tänak is 17.4s behind Ogier and 46.4s off the lead.
Thierry Neuville is firmly in no man’s land in fourth place with big gaps in front and behind, admitting this is “not the nicest of weekends” for him.
His Hyundai is at least working as it should though which can’t be said for Oliver Solberg’s fifth-placed example.
A misfire has left Solberg’s car sounding very gruff – intermittently cutting out and sapping him of power.
“I just tried to rev the s*** out of it to get it as clean as possible,” Solberg neatly surmised.
The demise of Elfyn Evans, Gus Greensmith and Takamoto Katsuta across the day has allowed WRC2 leader Hayden Paddon to climb all the way up to sixth place in his Hyundai i20 N Rally2.
Lorenzo Bertelli is the lead M-Sport runner in seventh overall although Breen – restarting after his retirement on Friday – was firmly the fastest, enjoying the best of the wet conditions as the first car on the road.
Kajetan Kajetanowicz had been under threat for second in WRC2 from two-time Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen, but that pressure was eased when van Gisbergen picked up his very first puncture in a rally car on Saturday’s penultimate stage.