Ott Tänak has won his second Rally Estonia stage in succession but did so from sixth on the road on SS12 instead of second where he was scheduled to start.
Hyundai driver Tänak has nothing to fight for today having retired from the action yesterday due to three punctures collected across two stages.
However his team-mate Thierry Neuville very much does have something to fight for; locked in a fight with Toyota’s Sébastien Ogier for third spot.
Tänak was due to start SS12 at 10.39am, but instead checked in between Sébastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville, starting at 10.54am to – in theory – give Neuville a slightly better road condition than Ogier.
Tänak denied such tactics when asked about it at the end of the stage: “It’s my chance to test today, this morning was damp and quite high grip and now it was low grip,” he explained.
“I thought I can do the job but in there we were struggling with a few things so we were a bit late but now we are here and at least we can learn something.”
Tänak did win the stage, beating Kalle Rovanperä by 0.4s, but Neuville didn’t beat Ogier, losing 0.1s to him to have his advantage shaved to 5.7s.
“I didn’t drive perfectly well the first two stages,” admitted Ogier. “But this one was a bit better.”
Out front, Rovanperä has stretched his lead past the 30s mark to 36s, beating Breen – who was sixth-fastest – by 10.8s to firmly extinguish any neutral hopes that there might be a fight on for victory in Estonia.
Asked what he needs to do to match Rovanperä, Breen said: “Full season, it’s as simple as that.”
Rovanperä meanwhile is contemplating backing off a touch with such a healthy lead, but is aware that that could also be his undoing.
“I think after this we can start to be more clever,” he said. “It’s not so easy in this kind of rally to be clever, you need to keep good rhythm and pace.”
Elfyn Evans is submerged in an increasingly lonely fifth position, now over 20s behind fourth placed Ogier but a massive 3m03.1s ahead of Teemu Suninen.
Evans admitted he wasn’t giving it “the ultimate push” on SS12, while Suninen felt things were “slightly better” aboard his M-Sport Ford as he “changed a bit of the set ups and we got a good feeling from the car”.
Pierre-Louis Loubet remains tucked behind Suninen in seventh, on course to meet his objective of simply finishing the rally unscathed.
Andreas Mikkelsen’s WRC2 lead has been damaged by Mads Østberg who grabbed 11.1s from the Toksport Škoda driver on SS12.
Mikkelsen was worried he might have broken something after an aggressive landing over a jump, but all seemed to be fine with his Fabia Rally2 evo.
Østberg, who complained his Citroën C3 Rally2 was becoming “impossible to drive” on the previous test, admitted: “I just have to manage the car when it’s not working and push when it is working.”
He also beat Nikolay Gryazin by 1.7s to extend his advantage in second over third-placed Gryazin to 5.4s.
Alexey Lukyanuk’s dominance of WRC3 has shown no sign of wavering as he holds eighth place overall ahead of Mikkelsen and Østberg.
1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) 10m58.7s
2 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +0.4s
3 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +8.2s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +8.3s
5 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +10.7s
6 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai) +10.8s
Leading positions after SS12
1 Rovanperä/Halttunen 1h37m07.4s
2 Breen/Nagle +36.0s
3 Neuville/Wydaeghe +1m21.2s
4 Ogier/Ingrassia +1m27.0s
5 Evans/Martin +1m47.3s
6 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (M-Sport Ford) +4m50.4s
7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Florian Haut-Labourdette (Hyundai) +5m29.4s
8 Alexey Lukyanuk/Yarislav Fedorov (Škoda) +5m57.2s
9 Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (Škoda) +6m34.3s
10 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) +6m55.8s