Ott Tänak heads into the final day of Rally Sweden in the lead as Craig Breen survived a wild moment on the day’s final stage.
Ever since Friday morning, Breen and Tänak have been locked in a close and entertaining fight for supremacy.
It was advantage Tänak over Friday morning before Breen snuck ahead in the afternoon and took a 2.6 second lead to bed with him.
He narrowly extended that advantage to three seconds across Saturday morning’s three stages, but as the afternoon kicked off it was clear Tänak meant business.
The 2019 world champion narrowed Breen’s lead to 1.7s on the afternoon’s opener and closed to just 0.5s behind after Breen’s tire delaminated right at the end of the stage.
Tänak was on an absolute mission on the next stage and was set to not just snatch the lead from Breen, but also open up a daunting advantage with it, but incredibly he suffered a delamination of his own which cost him time.
He still headed onto Saturday’s finale, Umeå (which will run as the powerstage on Sunday), with a 2.3s advantage and extended that into 8.6s by the end of the day.
But that was perhaps more down to a skirmish with a snowbank for Breen than brilliance for Tänak. Breen slid wide through a corner, nudged a bank with the rear of his Hyundai but the bank was kind to him and bounced him back on the road instead of swallowing him.
However, Breen suggested that there was more amiss.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been carrying an issue all afternoon which is a little bit unfortunate to be honest with you,” he said.
“We tried to the best that we could but it’s difficult when I couldn’t do what I wanted with the car.
“But we won’t give up.”
Tänak meanwhile was frustrated that his tire strategy had been undone by his delamination on the previous stage.
“It was quite unfortunate what happened,” he said, “I had it all planned for these two stages but we lost one tire on the last one then a slick on this one, not a nice evening.”
World champion Kalle Rovanperä and Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville started SS15 of 18 locked on times, sharing third overall, after a spin earlier in the afternoon – followed by a superb run from Neuville on SS14 – closed the Hyundai up to the Toyota.
And Neuville kept up the intensity on Umeå, winning the stage and beating Rovanperä by 3.8s to hold the same advantage over him overall.
“It’s going to be a tight fight tomorrow with Kalle,” said Neuville, “nobody will give up.”
Elfyn Evans meanwhile is now driving in a safe mode with no positions to fight for unless those ahead of him encounter a problem.
“Obviously now it’s a case of just getting through without issue, we fell out the battle with that spin [earlier in the afternoon] so it’s just a case of making no mistakes now,” Evans confirmed.
He’s fifth overall, 30.2s behind his team-mate Rovanperä but 1m30.4s clear of Pierre-Louis Loubet’s whose cautious approach is still paying off; sixth place the reward.
Oliver Solberg leads WRC2 by a strong 51.6s overnight on a day where his two closest rivals Ole Christian Veiby and Sami Pajari both spun.
It’s Veiby who holds second, 22.3s up on 2021 Junior WRC champion Pajari but there was nothing to smile about for Jari Huttunen who first went off into a snowbank then retired his ageing Škoda Fabia R5 with a mechanical problem.