Finland WRC: Evans storms into the lead as Rovanpera crashes

Toyota’s Elfyn Evans has stormed into the lead at Rally Finland after dominating an eventful Saturday morning loop highlighted by a crash for World Rally Championship home hero Kalle Rovanpera.

Finland WRC: Evans storms into the lead as Rovanpera crashes
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Title contender Evans produced one of the finest loop of stages of his WRC career, winning all four gravel tests to leapfrog the Hyundais of Ott Tanak and overnight leader Craig Breen.

As a result, Evans ended the morning with a 5.6s lead over Breen while Tanak is 9.7s adrift.

However, the big story of the morning was the demise of Rovanpera, who crashed out on the final stage of the loop.

The Finn had struggled for pace on the previous three stages, slipping away from the lead battle in fourth spot when drama struck. Rovanpera lost the rear of his Yaris on Stage 10 before ploughing into a pile of gravel, placed in front of a telegraph pole, which caused damage to the front of the car.

Wildcard Toyota runner Esapekka Lappi ended the morning fourth overall,  ahead of Thierry Neuville, while championship leader Sebastien Ogier, struggling for confidence, was more than a minute off the pace. 

The fierce battle for the lead resumed in earnest on the opening stage of the day which was won by Evans, who reported his feeling was “even better” than Friday.

The Welshman was the most confident of his rivals on the slippery gravel, posting a time that was 0.2s faster than rally leader Breen, who continued to impress in his last outing for Hyundai this season.

Breen however felt he lost time in the stage through hesitation. 

“I left so much time in there five or eight seconds easily with hesitation,” said Breen. “I just need to keep the balls on the dash and keep going. It was a nice run I really enjoyed it. The race is on.”

Tanak was among a group of drivers struggling with confidence to push flat out as he dropped 1.4s to Evans.

Rovanpera fared worse losing 4.6s but he did manage to beat his compatriot Lappi to jump to fourth overall albeit further back from the lead compared to Friday night.

"It was a clean run, but am not fully happy with the car and myself also,” said Rovanpera. “It's more difficult than it should be - I cannot be as precise as I want, but there is not much we can do now."

Neuville responded from a poor end to Friday to finish the stage fourth fastest, while Ogier continued to struggle for outright speed.

The rally changed complexion on the next stage as Evans jumped from third to the rally lead following his best drive of the event so far.

Evans blitzed Stage 8 winning the test by 4.2s from Tanak but crucially took 6.2s out of Breen to open up a 0.9s overall lead.

"I will go a bit faster,” said Breen. “Compared to Ott it's not a bad stage, but Elfyn has done a real blinder in there. I struggled a bit with grip, but that's an amazing time."

Neuville’s resurgence continued to clock a time faster than Rovanpera as the latter continued to drop even further back from the lead.

"I knew this stage was going to be difficult and I cannot do anything more,” said Rovanpera. “I am just trying to survive on the road - I'm sliding so much and I just don't have the grip to do anything else."

However, worse was to befall Rovanpera’s teammate Katsuta as he retired after clipping a tree on the stage which damaged the right rear of the Yaris which fired across the road, and became stranded in the undergrowth.   

Evans continued his streak of stage wins on the penultimate test of the morning to further extend his overall advantage over Breen.

This time the Toyota driver’s nearest rival was teammate Rovanpera, who found an improved pace, to end the stage only 1.6s shy.

Breen dropped 3.1s to the new leader while Tanak lost a further six tenths.

Evans completed his dominant display by winning the final test by 1.6s from Breen, while Tanak was 3.7s further back.

Earlier in the test, Rovanpera crashed out which allowed Lappi, the sole remaining Finn to climb to fourth on the overall leaderboard.

Rally Finland continues on Saturday afternoon with a second pass through the morning stages followed by a repeat of Friday’s opening stage under lights.

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