Ott Tänak has grabbed second place from Craig Breen and nudged closer to Rally Finland leader Elfyn Evans with his second stage win in succession.
Evans absolutely dominated the first pass of Päijälä earlier on Saturday, winning the stage by over four seconds to propel himself into the rally lead.
But on the repeat test, run as SS12 in the afternoon, Evans was edged by Tänak to the tune of 1.2 seconds as the 2018 and ’19 Finland winner continued to build his progress.
Tänak had broken Evans’ stranglehold on Saturday on the first stage of the afternoon, and is now looking menacing now that he feels his Hyundai is “behaving better” – closing to just 7.9s behind overall.
“Maybe I needed to push a bit more, I don’t know,” Evans wondered. “But it felt pretty good”.
Evans was still quicker than Breen however who gave up two seconds to Tänak and 0.8s to Evans. That pushed Breen down to third, but only by 0.2s.
“The two boys are hammer and thongs,” Breen conceded. “I had quite a perfect stage to be honest with you. It’s a huge pace and I’m just trying to do my best.”
Fourth-placed Esapekka Lappi is increasingly drifting into no man’s land, 30.3s down on Breen ahead but 22s clear of Thierry Neuville behind.
Lappi – driving a private Toyota Yaris WRC – has picked up his pace in the afternoon too, feeling that “our car is working much better on the second pass that is clear, but we need to make it work on the first pass as well”.
His stage time of 10m21.4s was 2.9s off the benchmark.
Although he hasn’t revealed precisely what he has changed, Sébastien Ogier has made a radical change to the set-up of his Toyota in a bid to discover more pace.
He beat Neuville by 0.8s to narrow his deficit to fifth place to 12.3s, but admitted he still is not “100% on the limit yet” in sixth overall.
Neuville put his time loss of “two seconds, maybe more” to Ogier on SS12 to getting “caught out of the line twice as I hit the sump-guard [on the ground] so I had to get out of the throttle before a big straight-line”.
Despite losing a hefty 14.5s to team-mate Gus Greensmith, eighth placed Adrien Fourmaux admitted “I’m quite happy with my pace” considering he hasn’t done Finland in a World Rally Car before and is the first car onto the stages through Saturday.
“It’s difficult to have a proper line because the outside there’s a lot of loose,” he added.
Greensmith wasn’t as quick as the Hyundais or Toyotas, but his strong run compared to his team-mate was planned as “despite not fighting for anything” he wants to see where his pace is at.
“I’m not going to see what I can improve on driving slowly,” he said, “so I tried.”
Teemu Suninen continues to hold ninth overall and the WRC2 lead in his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, 10.2s ahead of title challenger Mads Østberg, but did appear to be in some strife as an alarm dominated his dashboard.
At stage end, the former M-Sport driver described it as “nothing special” and indeed it didn’t seem to be on the stage times either as he lost just 0.1s to Østberg’s Citroën.
1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) 10m18.5s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +1.2s
3 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai) +2.0s
4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota) +2.9s
5 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +4.1s
6 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +4.9s
Leading positions after SS12
1 Evans/Martin (Toyota) 1h38m59.4s
2 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +7.9s
2 Breen/Nagle (Hyundai) +8.1s
4 Lappi/Ferm (Toyota) +38.4s
5 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1m00.4s
6 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +1m12.7s
7 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +3m29.7s
8 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +4m39.9s
9 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Volkswagen) +6m53.8s
10 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) +7m04.0s