The Toyota driver excelled in challenging wet conditions to set fastest times on four of Friday’s six stages to open up a 36.4s lead over Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville.
Elfyn Evans climbed from eighth to second through the day but lost ground on the day’s final stage to fall behind Neuville, 47.2s adrift of the leader. Evans needs to outscore Rovanpera in this weekend’s three-country rally to deny his team-mate a second world title.
Eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier recovered to sixth, 2m35.9s behind Rovanpera, after losing almost a minute to a tyre issue on the day’s first stage. Teemu Suninen and Gregoire Munster filled seventh and eighth positions.
After clean sweeping the morning stages, Rovanpera’s run of stage wins came to a halt on stage six (Vlachovo Brezí 2, 13.66km). Despite the weather clearing, the Finn’s pass was some eight seconds slower than the morning run due to the wet and muddy road conditions.
“It’s definitely quite tricky,” said Rovanpera. “Even though the weather is drying up the stages are really dirty. I hope this one was the worst of the loop.”
Photo by: Toyota Racing
Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
Evans came through to win the stage by 1.1s from Neuville, who felt he’d squeezed the maximum from his run. Evans’ effort reduced Rovanpera’s lead to 27.5s and extended his margin over Neuville to 2.0s.
Tanak dropped a further 8.6s as he continued to struggle with the set-up of his M-Sport Puma. He was however faster than Ogier and Katsuta.
Katsuta was the last to pass through the stage as organisers were forced to cancel the test due to spectators standing in dangerous locations. Notional times were awarded to the remaining crews yet to traverse the test.
Rovanpera responded to Evans’ effort in stage seven (Zvotoky, 23.81km) by taking 9.7s out of the Welshman, who couldn’t find the sweet spot on the slippery road. The effort was enough for Rovanpera to claim his fourth stage win of the event.
“I had a really bad feeling so I was hoping he [Kalle] was a bit the same, but clearly not,” reported Evans, who trailed Rovanpera by 37.2s after finding his tyres…