If Friday in New Zealand was all about the closeness of the competition, Saturday was all about the sketchiness of it.
Two crashes on the first morning and another in the afternoon turned the rally on its head, and the continually wet conditions allowed one driver to re-establish the devastating rhythm that had somewhat gone missing on recent events.
If you weren’t able to follow our coverage blow for blow as another action-packed day of Rally New Zealand action unfolded, here are the main storylines that you missed:
Evans crashed and squandered his rally lead
Elfyn Evans was promoted into the lead of the rally heading into Saturday following a five-second penalty for Ott Tänak, Thierry Neuville and Kalle Rovanperä (more on those later) for their hybrid units producing more energy than they were allowed to.
Evans’ 4.8 seconds advantage was whittled down to 2.8s on the first stage of the day and so he was under threat, but things got a whole lot worse on the Puhoi test when he suffered a massive slide and thwacked a bank on the inside of a sweeping right hander.
The live onboard camera froze and then picked up the GR Yaris Rally1 pointing back in the stage direction, and continuing on its way. But actually, Evans had rolled – not just spun – and was fortunate that the car landed back upright on its wheels.
Evans made it to the end of the stage but with significant damage to the radiator and with the tailgate missing, losing half a minute due to the incident. He then made it back to service, but the team discovered that the rollcage had been damaged and he was therefore forced out.
Greensmith also crashed out
Although overheated tires and some bad timing with the rain and his road position meant Gus Greensmith’s Friday gradually deteriorated (following that epic stage win) he was at least still running in the top six.
But that changed in a heartbeat when he spectacularly rolled out of the rally on the final morning stage before service.
Turning a fraction too early in a fast left corner, in the wet conditions Greensmith was always going to be in trouble once he’d committed to the bend. Greensmith’s Puma understeered wide and headed for a roadside ditch, and once the front was in the ditch the car was pitched into a series of rolls.
It looked very dramatic but Greensmith and Jonas Andersson were both OK, although the stage was canceled due to the wreckage.
M-Sport retired the car from not just the day but the entire weekend, and team principal Richard Millener even harbored some concerns about making Rally Spain in three weeks’ time. A bitter end to what had been a promising performance.
Hyundai in the stewards room (again)
Tänak and Neuville had both lost five seconds of rally time due to that hybrid overboost breach on the opening stage of the rally. But then the same thing happened again – only worse, as the stewards’ weren’t impressed with a repeat offense and so doubled the penalty to 10s.
All three cars were found to have surpassed the permitted hybrid boost allowance on the second pass of Friday’s final stage, Te Akau North 2, too – giving Tänak and Neuville 15s worth of penalties in total for the weekend.
All of it was down to human error. An engineer had missed a bulletin from the event organizer prior to the rally that the level for SS1 had been adjusted, which led to two of the team’s cars overboosting.
Then later on Thursday, in the short 15-minute service, an engineer recalibrated the levels for the first pass of Te Akau North, but forgot to do it for the second pass, SS7, as well – hence the time penalties for all three cars and another trip to the stewards’ room for Hyundai team manager Pablo Marcos.
Rain master Rovanperä returned, title very much on
The spark had been missing from Kalle Rovanperä for a while – two crashes on the last two events would do that.
But as the rain intensified for Saturday’s leg of six stages, Rovanperä – on his 22nd birthday – came alive. Hitting the front on the second stage, Rovanperä soared clear with some utterly dominant stage wins to lead Toyota team-mate Ogier by 29s overnight.
That puts him firmly on the front foot to claim the world title on Sunday. Needing to outscore Tänak by eight points (or just seven if he wins the rally) and with Tänak third – his pace falling off a cliff in the afternoon as he was yet again hit with transmission problems – the likelihood is that the WRC will have a new (and extremely young) world champion in New Zealand.
As birthdays go, Rovanperä won’t be forgetting his 22nd in a hurry.
Katsuta’s points scoring run is in jeopardy
On all 10 rounds of the 2022 season so far, Takamoto Katsuta has finished inside the top 10 and scored points. But that run could well be over in New Zealand after he slid off the road on SS15.
Katsuta had struggled for pace, as he had done in Greece, throughout Rally New Zealand but by once again staying out of trouble, he had risen to fifth overall by Saturday afternoon.
However on SS12, Puhoi 2, Katsuta came unstuck. Missing his braking point on a wet and tightening left-hander was only ever going to lead to trouble, and indeed it did. He ran wide, slipped off the edge of the road and rolled over once before his Toyota came to rest, wheels-down down the bank.
There was next-to-no damage to the car so Katsuta will restart on Sunday, but with several minutes to make up over just four short stages to the top 10, his immaculate points-scoring run is hanging by a thread.