Elfyn Evans leads Ott Tanak by 25.4s heading into the final day of running. The Welshman inherited the lead after Thierry Neuville crashed out of the rally during the third stage of the day. Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi sits in third but 55.4s behind the leading Toyota.
Day 2 of the Croatia Rally saw the crews return to similar territory which opened with Kostanjevac – Petrus Vrh. Vinski – Duga Resa follows with a brand-new stage, Ravna Gora – Skrad, being tackled afterwards. Platak ended the loop which was repeated in the afternoon after service.
Heading into Saturday, Hyundai’s Neuville was leading Evans by 5.7s which he then duly stretched over the first two tests of the day. Drama would strike however on the all-new third stage of the day when his car had a moment coming through a right-hand corner. The rear left of the car ended up hitting a concrete block which caused terminal damage to the car and any hopes of the Belgian winning in Croatia.
Evans claimed the top spot as a result but there was mounting pressure from behind in the form of Ott Tanak. At the midday service, Tanak trailed the Welshman by 22.6s but the Estonian proceeded to pile on the pressure as he gained a rhythm in his Puma. In SS13 Tanak brought the gap down to 15.9s followed by another deficit decrease after SS14. Heading into SS15, Evans was slightly perplexed as he felt he was running quickly, but the time just wasn’t coming.
“I’m surprised to lose that much. I’ve got a better feeling in the car, but the time doesn’t feel so good!” said Evans after SS14.
But Evans increased the gap out to 16.9s in the penultimate stage of the day, in part owing to Tanak suffering from handbrake issues which meant he couldn’t use it. The final stage saw Tanak still struggling with the mechanical issue so Evans was able to capitalise further and stretch the gap to 25.4s at the end of the day.
“I can’t say I’m pleased. I wasn’t so happy with the way I drove in there and if Ott had problems, I wouldn’t wish that on him,” commented Evans. It’s not nice to exploit a gap like that but there’s a long way to go.”
Esapekka Lappi moved into third as a result of Neuville’s retirement but lacked confidence in his car all day. The upside, however, is that the Finn has a huge gap back to fourth place, meaning as long as Lappi keeps it consistent on the final day, he will be on for a podium.
Pierre-Louis Loubet jumped to fourth after the morning leg as the Frenchman had benefitted from not only Neuville’s crash but also Ogier’s time penalty. Ogier received a one-minute time penalty overnight due to not having his safety harness properly tightened then was also slapped with a further 10s penalty before running had restarted due to a technical issue meant he arrived late at the first stage of the day.
Ogier’s fighting nature though meant that he produced another comeback to pass Loubet and Takamoto Katsuta to battle reigning champion, Kalle Rovanpera, for fifth place. The final stage of the day saw Ogier and Rovanpera separated by 1.3s at the start but it was Ogier that came out on top but only with a 2s gap with one day to go.
Katsuta finished the day in sixth after struggling for pace all day with Loubet eventually dropping out of the top six with a similar problem.
Yohan Rossel continues to lead Nikolay Gryazin in WRC2 with Emil Lindholm, third in the category.
Standings after Saturday
- Evans 2hrs 20min 5.7s
- Tanak +25.4s
- Lappi +55.4s
- Ogier +1min 49.4s
- Rovanpera +1min 51.4s
- Katsuta +2min 25.9s
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