Kalle Rovanperä took the lead in the Central European Rally with 36.4 seconds after winning four of the six stages on Friday.
Rovanpera led the World Rally Championship’s Central European Rally on Friday morning after mastering incredibly challenging wet conditions to sweep the stages.
The championship leader overcame slippery conditions to win the three asphalt stages, moving up from fourth place overnight to a lead of 29.2 seconds over his Toyota teammate and championship contender Elfyn Evans.
To advance to the championship fight’s final round in Japan next month, Evans must prevail over Rovanpera during this weekend’s inaugural three-country rally.
The Toyota driver’s lead over Elfyn Evans was 29.2 seconds going into the afternoon, but Evans set the pace on SS6, so the gap narrowed to 27.5 seconds.
The only other drivers to complete the stage before it was canceled owing to safety concerns were Ott Tänak of M-Sport Ford as well as Toyota’s Sébastien Ogier and Takamoto Katsuta. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville was the second fastest, solidifying his third spot in the overall classification.
That stage was delayed even though all the other crews proceeded straight to SS7 at that point. Rovanperä finally made his way in as the other drivers were having trouble clearing mud on the road, while he was running on the cleanest line.
Neuville, who was complaining he had no grip and was “really fighting to keep the car on the road,” beat Evans by 1.7 seconds to take second place, putting him 0.3 seconds behind him heading into the day’s final stage. Neuville’s comfortably eight-second stage win increased his lead to 37.2 seconds.
SS8 went to Neuville who prevailed by 1.1s over Rovanperä, who claimed he lost feeling once the rain started to fall in the middle of the race. Although Evans lost out on second place by 10 seconds over Neuville, he was still third fastest, with the other Rally1 crews suffering far greater losses.
M-Sport’s Ott Tanak ended the loop in fourth (+43.8s) ahead of Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta (+1m17.5s) Teemu Suninen (1m23.4s). Tänak’s gamble to use soft rather than wet compound tyres cost him 23.2 seconds, and Ogier, who was feeling under the weather, dropped from fourth place to sixth place.
The Rally1 field was completed by M-Sport’s Gregoire Munster (+1m31.1s), Pierre-Louis Loubet (+1m31.7s) and Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier (+1m44.4s), who lost time to a puncture.
Pierre-Louis Loubet lost the most time when he stopped for three minutes to change a wheel after making a small mistake less than 300 meters into the stage.
The first significant problem of the day for Ogier came when his GR Yaris sustained damage to its right front, costing him 41.9 seconds and dropping the Frenchman to tenth place overall.
Tyre problems also beset WRC2 title contenders Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux, while class leader Yohan Rossel’s ambitions of winning the class were dashed when he crashed into woods seven kilometers into the stage. Although Rossel and co-driver Arnaud Dunand appeared unharmed, the stage was stopped to carry out preemptive medical examinations.
Following an off in stage four, championship leader Andreas Mikkelsen lost over ten minutes and Fourmaux took the lead in the WRC2.