Ott Tänak won the Rally Sweden powerstage dress rehearsal as Esapekka Lappi nibbled a little bit of time back from second placed Thierry Neuville.
Sarsjöliden will offer the fastest five competitors bonus championship points later on Sunday afternoon, so SS17 gave the crews a chance to check their pacenotes for an all-out attack on the second pass.
Tänak, running second on the road, set a strong pace to win the stage by 2.4 seconds over both Lappi and Hyundai team-mate Oliver Solberg.
Lappi’s effort was enough for him to nick 1.7s from Neuville to close his overall deficit to 3.2s. But the Toyota driver was still annoyed at himself for not quite being able to push to the max.
“I can do 95% but I cannot do 100, that’s how it’s been the whole weekend. I just need to accept it,” Lappi said.
Neuville was only sixth fastest, admitting to taking it carefully: “I saw a lot of parts on the road and a lot of snowbanks were destroyed so I didn’t feel it very well.”
Despite also being cautious, Rovanperä has extended his rally lead by 0.8s to 24.7s and is contemplating his strategy for the powerstage.
“The time is surprisingly good, I was quite careful and just driving my own drive, not pushing,” he said.
“I think it could be tricky on the powerstage, when we don’t have the push from the hybrid we will lose on the exit onto the straights. But let’s see maybe we will try something.”
Takamoto Katsuta stalled at the start so did well to set the seventh best time on SS17, particularly considering he “didn’t push at all” on the stage.
He’s fourth overall ahead of Gus Greensmith and Solberg who complete the top six.
The top Rally2 cars in WRC2 have now infiltrated the last four positions in the top 10, and seventh overall (first in WRC2) is currently occupied by Andreas Mikkelsen.
Ole Christian Veiby is closing fast, and went 3.2s faster than Mikkelsen on SS17 to trail by just 4.8s with two stages remaining.
“I took some risks but I had a good stage, was clean, no big drama. It’s just according to the plan, so we’ll see it will be interesting,” said Veiby.
Nikolay Gryazin and Jari Huttunen complete the top 10; third and fourth in WRC2.
1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) 6m35.0s
2 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota) +2.4s
3 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai) +2.4s
4 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +2.9s
5 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +3.3s
6 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +4.1s
7 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +6.8s
8 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +11.6s
9 Ole Christian Veiby/Stig Rune Skjaermoen (Volkswagen) +22.1s
10 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Škoda) +25.3s
Leading positions after SS17
1 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) 1h58m08.0s
2 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +24.7s
3 Lappi/Ferm (Toyota) +27.9s
4 Katsuta/Johnston (Toyota) +1m55.0s
5 Greensmith/Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +3m08.0s
6 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai) +5m21.3s
7 Mikkelsen/Eriksen (Škoda) +6m22.6s
8 Veiby/Skjaermoen (Volkswagen) +6m27.4s
9 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Škoda) +6m58.4s
10 Jari Huttunen/Mikko Lukka (M-Sport Ford) +7m16.9s