Rovanpera came under pressure from Evans when the latter closed within 1.2 s from the Finn, but a masterful display of the last two night stages extended Rovanpera’s lead to 8.3 s
Evans was lucky enough to finish the day after a strange finish on the final stage. The Welshman was caught by a snow bank in the last corner and was briefly stranded but had unbelievably cut off the time ray in the process of losing control.
Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville finished the day in third place with 21.7 seconds after an eventful day that began with him leading the rally by 4.3 seconds. However, the Belgian lost the lead in the first stage of the morning and dropped to fourth after a spin in the last test of that loop.
Neuville did well during the three afternoon stages to regain third when Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi dropped to fourth, 25.9s shy of Rovanpera.
Toyota’s fourth post for Takamoto Katsuta ended the day in fifth place after running over Oliver Solberg, who was late to the final stage after stopping to fix a gas problem. The Swede lost seven in total.
M-Sport Ford’s Gus Greensmith also jumped teammate Adrien Fourmaux to sixth after the Frenchman battled an engine problem in the final stage.
The third M-Sport Ford driven by Craig Breen, who had returned to action after retiring on Friday, fared even worse as it did not reach the end of Saturday’s action.
After winning the last stage of the morning, the Irishman ended up staying on the penultimate stage of the day with an electrical problem.
The battle for the lead intensified in the afternoon’s first stage, which was won by Evans after a risk of driving on the heavily rutted roads.
Evans’ efforts were rewarded when he narrowed the gap of 4.8 s to his rally leader teammate Rovanpera down to 1.2 s.
Rovanpera admitted that he was at this limit in the conditions but could not match his team, which ended the stage with the third fastest time.
Determined to take back the lost ground after a spin on the morning’s final stage, Neuville successfully provided an answer to clock the second fastest time. The effort was not enough to regain the third overall but finished the test 0.3 s behind third-placed Lappi.
Toyota’s fourth driver, Katsuta, was fifth fastest after setting an impressive benchmark by using the snowdrifts to keep him on the road, describing the effort as “being on a bob”.
Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
Photo by: Toyota Racing
Rovanpera responded to Evans’ accusation at the next stage, which undoubtedly produced the driving force from the rally so far when darkness fell.
Evans had already set an impressive benchmark that included a superb save, but Rovanpera raised the bar with a flawless race to beat his teammate by 4.5 s, which increased his rally lead to 5.7 s during the process.
Neuville was also on a charge using Hyundai’s faster top speed compared to Toyota, although a short drive with a snow bank took the shine of a strong drive. The run was only 5.3 s shy for Rovanpera, but it was crucial that the time was enough to regain the last podium place from Lappi, which dropped to fourth.
The stage was not without drama as Breens Puma stopped after losing power two kilometers into the stage. This caused the officials to postpone the competition to get through until the Irishman could move the car with electric power to a safe place. He could not compete in the last stage of the day.
Rovanpera finished the day in style by winning the final stage by 2.6s from a lucky Evans after his mishap in the final corner. Neuville was faster than Lappi to keep third overall.
The rally ends tomorrow when the crews take on another four stages.