Kalle Rovanperä’s clean sweep of Saturday’s Acropolis Rally stages continued on SS9 Bauxites but the rally leader survived a hairy moment he admitted he was “lucky to escape” from.
As was the case on both of the two earlier stages on Saturday, second-placed Ott Tänak was comfortably quicker than third-placed Sébastien Ogier but simply could not match Rovanperä’s blistering pace.
But it was not a flawless run for the rally leader ,who drifted wide through a fast section and dropped the rear-left of his Toyota into a ditch.
“The moment was a huge one, haha!” grinned Rovanperä.
“I have to say we were lucky to escape there was nothing in the ditch. I was pushing a bit too much in the place, I tried to be more careful after that.”
Rovanperä still beat Tänak – who described his stage as “quite OK” – by 4.6s to extend his advantage beyond the 20-second mark to 21.4s.
Ogier’s victory chances have been severely dented on Saturday morning. Starting the day 3.9s adrift of top spot, the championship leader is now 36.8s in arrears but, with main rivals Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville currently outside the top 10 and only likely to claim minor points, that’ll still do nicely.
“It’s OK at the moment, we keep doing our job,” said Ogier. “I need to focus on myself, for the championship it’s perfect where we are right now.”
Dani Sordo finds himself in a precarious position of lying fourth but not having too much to push for, meaning he has an awful lot more to lose than he does to gain.
The Hyundai driver was fifth fastest on SS9, 2.6s down on Evans and 17.6s shy of the fastest time.
“I’m not [happy]. The stage was good, I’m too slow!” he said.
“The car was moving a lot at the rear, when I go a little bit out of the line it’s impossible to pull the car straight. In the classification we are in the middle of nothing so we’ll continue to push a little bit.”
Gus Greensmith survived a spin approaching a sweeping left-hand hairpin, losing the rear of his M-Sport with the car sliding to the right.
The moment was quickly collected and Greensmith was back on his way but the net result was he lost time to his fifth-placed M-Sport team-mate Adrien Fourmaux for the first time on Saturday.
Greensmith felt it cost him “three to five seconds” and his stage time was 1.8s slower than Fourmaux’s. The gap between them is 16.2s overall.
Andreas Mikkelsen continued to lead WRC2 despite losing 0.9s to Toksport Škoda team-mate Marco Bulacia, who has put up an impressive fight.
“We’re going quite slow to be honest, a bit of risk of punctures but we’re in a nice rhythm,” Mikkelsen surmised. “We’re enjoying the stages as much as we can but looking for the stones.”
Mikkelsen is seventh overall with Bulacia eighth, but the recovering Evans is now up to ninth overall, ahead of the Citroën of Yohan Rossel – who usurped erstwhile leader Chris Ingram on SS9 to top the WRC3 classification.
Mikkelsen is also a very plausible target for Evans, who ended SS9 39.3s behind the Škoda.
1 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) 13m44.3s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +4.6s
3 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +6.2s
4 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +15s
5 Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +17.6s
6 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +23s
Leading positions after SS9
1 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) 1h55m45s
2 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +21.4s
3 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +36.8s
4 Sordo/Carrera (Hyundai) +1m15.8s
5 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +2m21.9s
6 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +2m38.1s
7 Andreas Mikkelsen/Elliott Edmondson (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +4m49.6s
8 Marco Bulacia/Marcelo der Ohannesian (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +4m59.7s
9 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +5m28.9s
10 Yohan Rossel/Alexandre Coria (Citroën) +5m35.8s