Ott Tänak has drawn first blood on Sunday morning of Rally Finland in his battle with Elfyn Evans for victory, but only by 0.4 seconds.
The Toyota and Hyundai rivals began the day split by just 9.1s with four stages to go on Sunday, setting up a thrilling climax to the final ever world championship gravel rally for World Rally Cars.
Tänak proved he was up for fight by punching in the fastest stage time, but his efforts did little to damage Evans’ lead which now stands at 8.7s.
Tänak felt he had a “quite OK run” while Evans felt his was “not great, I felt it could’ve gone a bit better in places, I had a few big slides towards the start”.
Craig Breen suffered a “little spin at a junction” towards the end of the stage, costing him a few seconds. In Breen’s words it was “nothing too serious” as the moment was fairly innocuous and it had little impact on proceedings as he’s in a comfortable third place, 25.6s down on the lead.
Esapekka Lappi is representing Finnish honor in fourth place and despite losing 3.1s to the stage winner, Lappi was third quickest on Sunday’s opener, holding onto fourth spot.
Sébastien Ogier was fined and docked a minute late on Saturday as his helmet strap was not fastened correctly on SS12. It didn’t cost him his fifth position, but firmly drops the championship leader into no man’s land.
“We have big gaps around us, so the only target is powerstage,” said Ogier. “We just drive through and focus on the powerstage.”
Takamoto Katsuta and Kalle Rovanperä both returned to action following their respective retirements on Saturday.
Rovanperä wasn’t attacking whatsoever though, backing off significantly with a car that’s believed to not quite be at full working order still. He was a full 35.5s slower than Katsuta who, in turn, was fourth fastest on SS16 despite running first on the road.
“We are just cruising through really slowly,” he confirmed.
For Katsuta, Sunday’s four stages are an ideal opportunity to improve his collaboration with new co-driver Aaron Johnston.
“We just try to get mileage together and understand each other, that’s the main thing,” he said.
The returning Toyotas relinquished Adrien Fourmaux of his road-sweeping duties on Sunday, but the seventh-placed M-Sport driver had no confidence with “no grip with the rear of the car”.
Gus Greensmith was three seconds faster than his team-mate Fourmaux to cement his grip in sixth position, surprised at how low the grip on the stage was at this time of year.
1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) 5m24.2s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +0.4s
3 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota) +3.1s
4 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston +6.2s
5 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai) +6.5s
6 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +9.0s
Leading positions after SS16
1 Evans/Martin (Toyota) 2ho3m11.3s
2 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +8.7s
3 Breen/Nagle (Hyundai) +25.6s
4 Lappi/Ferm (Toyota) +47.6s
5 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +2m32.3s
6 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +4m28.6s
7 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +5m46.2s
8 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Volkswagen) +8m44.8s
9 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) +8m50.5s
10 Emil Lindholm/Reeta Hämäläinen (Škoda) +9m24.5s