Thierry Neuville is currently leading the Central European Rally with ease, while Kalle Rovanperä is on course to win the World Rally Championship for the second time in a row.
Thierry Neuville has taken a commanding lead over Kalle Rovanpera, who is getting closer to winning a second WRC championship, and is now well-positioned to win the Central European Rally.
Following thrilling morning stages, the Saturday afternoon stages mostly consisted of holding station for the leading crews, with Neuville increasing his lead to a comfortable 26.2 seconds having started the day 36.4s adrift of the championship leader.
Although Rovanperä took a more measured approach to try to win the championship, he did set the quickest time on the last stage, narrowly defeating Neuville by 0.5s.
Neuville won two stages in the morning after taking the lead from Rovanpera after the latter misjudged a hairpin.
Rovanpera cruised through the afternoon, giving Neuville a comfortable lead after being aware that Evans’s hopes of winning the championship are pretty much ended. The Belgian took the lead after his title opponent and Toyota teammate Elfyn Evans crashed out of stage 11.
“I just wanted to end the day with somehow a good feeling, so I tried to drive a bit. It’s good to be at the finish of the day, it’s tough out there,” said Rovanpera.
“I think this is the toughest tarmac conditions I have ever seen, I don’t think you can call it Tarmac on this stage.
“It’s a bit more difficult [having to survive]. Usually, it’s easier when you have proper pace [but] now when you are braking more and some sections you try and be fast it’s not so easy.”
“But anyway I think we are doing OK. The only goal is to finish now.”
Sébastien Ogier made two of his personal fastest times, besting Neuville by 1.5 seconds on SS12 and Ott Tänak by just 0.1 seconds on SS13. Ogier seemed more than satisfied with the conditions and had finally began to establish some rhythm.
A podium appeared improbable heading into the last stage of the day, as he was more than 50 seconds behind Tänak’s Puma in third. However, given the M-Sport driver’s mishap in the shadow of SS14, things might soon change.
It was in precisely the same area that Tänak’s team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet had gone off the road and into a ditch earlier. He trailed Rovanperä by 30.4 seconds at the end of the stage, but more importantly, his lead over Ogier shrank to 31.1 seconds.
Tänak, condemned his “stupid instinct” to engage the handbrake after running without hydraulic pressure resulting to the front wheels locking up.
“I had a stupid instinct to pull the handbrake and it locked the front wheels,” said Tanak.
Teemu Suninen and Takamoto Katsuta are currently engaged in the greatest battle among the Rally1 crews, competing for the fifth spot. In the morning, Katsuta was overtaken by the Hyundai driver, while the Toyota man appeared disoriented due to the muddy conditions. However, their positions were reversed in the afternoon.
Katsuta regained the lead on SS12 right away, cutting the Finn’s lead by a substantial 8.3 seconds. In order to move ahead by 10.9 seconds, he needed three more seconds in the last stage and an additional 1.9 in SS13.
Hyundai’s Teemu Suninen finished sixth ahead of Gregoire Munster, Pierre-Louis Loubet, top Rally2 competitor Adrien Fourmaux as WRC2 leader Emil Lindholm rounded out the top 10.
The field will battle it out in four more stages to wrap up the rally on Sunday.