Toyota’s Elfyn Evans and Sébastien Ogier set identical times to win the third Rally Croatia stage and end Thierry Neuville’s stranglehold on the World Rally Championship’s newest event.
Evans and Ogier were dead level on the 6.27-mile Jaškovo – Mali Modruš Potok test to begin chipping away at Hyundai driver Neuville’s leading advantage.
Ogier is recovering from a puncture on the opening stage of the rally, on which his team-mate and WRC points leader Kalle Rovanperä had his day prematurely ended following an off.
“We lost too much in the first two stages,” Ogier said. “I tried to push a bit harder in there and the feeling is coming so we have to carry on this way.”
Evans would not be drawn on whether aerodynamic upgrades brought to the Toyota Yaris WRC this weekend played a part in the duo’s pace on the high-speed stage.
“It’s difficult to compare because it’s the first time we have driven the car on dry Tarmac,” said Evans, when asked about the aero updates.
Neuville, who is now running as the first car on the road following Rovanperä’s off, was 0.9 seconds adrift of the Toyota duo, but his advantage over Evans still stands at 6.8s and he has a further 4.5s over Ogier.
Craig Breen (pictured above) pipped a struggling Ott Tänak to be the second-fastest Hyundai driver on the stage. The latter now sits over 20s off his rally-leading team-mate after just three stages.
“It’s just our pace at the moment,” Tänak conceded after the stage.
For the third successive stage, top-flight WRC debutant Adrien Fourmaux was the fastest M-Sport Ford driver in sixth place. His team-mate Gus Greensmith was seventh ahead of Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta.
2C Competition Hyundai’s Pierre-Louis Loubet continued to struggle for pace, with a time almost 5s slower than Katsuta.
“I was thinking it was not so bad, but the time is very bad,” Loubet admitted after the stage. “So we need to understand.”
Nikolay Gryazin lost the lead of the WRC2 class after his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 picked up a rear-left puncture when landing after a jump.
This left the stage victor Mads Østberg, who is making the first stage of his title defense, to assume the class lead ahead of M-Sport’s factory driver Teemu Suninen.
Andreas Mikkelsen was unable to start the stage having “hit something hard” and broken the steering arm on the previous stage.
Former GT driver Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof topped the WRC3 class on stage three to move into second-place behind the class leader Yohan Rossel, who won both of the rally’s opening stages in his Citroën C3 Rally2.
Three-time European Rally Champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz is third overall ahead of shakedown pacesetter Nicolas Ciamin and Chris Ingram – on the first rally of his maiden full-time WRC campaign.
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) 5m32.3s
2 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +0.0s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +0.9s
4 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai) +6.1s
5 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +6.6s
6 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +7.5s
Leading positions after SS3
1 Neuville/Wydaeghe 22m56s
2 Evans/Martin +6.8s
3 Ogier/Ingrassia +11.3s
4 Tänak/Järveoja +23.5s
5 Breen/Nagle +31.4s
6 Fourmaux/Jamoul +38.1s
7 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +42.9s
8 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +43.1s
9 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (2C Competition Hyundai) +51.4s
10 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) +1m24.7s