Kalle Rovanperä’s threat to the leaders is growing on Rally Finland as he closed right in on Esapekka Lappi on the first stage out of service.
Intermittent rain affected the morning loop but conditions were far drier for the second pass of Päijälä. However several of the crews reported that the road surface was far rougher than expected.
Rovanperä adopted an adverse tire strategy, taking one hard compound Pirelli as part of his package instead of five softs, and he fitted it onto the car on the first test of the loop.
Whether it made any different wasn’t too clear, but his rear-left tire was pushed off the rim at stage-end.
“Quite tricky to be honest,” said Rovanperä. “Now we change the car a bit, one area is better and the other one is not so let’s see what we do on the next one.”
Rovanperä’s strong pace means he has closed to just 1.5 seconds behind second-placed Lappi who survived a scare, coming to the end of the stage with a crack in his windshield.
Lappi explained: “On the braking the front went through the rock and then suddenly it came back to the windscreen. Got lucky.”
All of this was just white noise to Tänak though who has established a double-digit lead for the first all rally, leading Lappi by 11.2s.
“For the moment it’s enough,” Tänak said, who lost two tenths to Rovanperä on the stage.
“We need to continue the same rhythm and it’s OK.”
Elfyn Evans has begun to slip away from the podium battle, losing 5.3s to Rovanperä on the stage to trail by over 10s overall.
“Really rough, bit of a surprise,” he said. “Felt OK but maybe a bit too aggressive.”
Thierry Neuville’s fifth place may yet be under threat as Takamoto Katsuta, who consistently lost time to Neuville over the morning, stole nine tenths back on SS15.
“It’s very rutted in there and quite destroyed on the last section, I didn’t feel good at all in there,” Neuville said.
But the M-Sport Fords showed an impressive turn of speed on Päijälä as Pierre-Louis Loubet equalled Katsuta’s effort, and Gus Greensmiht was faster than Neuville too.
Greensmith lost half a second to M-Sport team-mate Loubet, dropping to 7.9s behind in eighth overall. But he couldn’t care less after another run at his favorite stage in the entire World Rally Championship.
“It was the best 9m41.4s of my life,” he said. “I don’t what it is about that stage, it’s just something else. I love that.”