Elfyn Evans swept his rivals aside with a masterful morning attack on Saturday to take control of the Secto Automotive Rally Finland.
He was the fastest in all four speed tests in the autumnal Finnish forests and stormed from third to first place in his Toyota Yaris.
Tänak returned the favor this afternoon and scored three stage wins of his own before Evans set another best time. They shared the booty in the final test and Evans drove into the night hold 9.1 seconds ahead of round 10 of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Video: Secto Automotive Rally Finland SS7 – SS10
A win here is essential for Evans to keep his hopes for a first world title. Despite having admitted a few small mistakes, he was pleased with his performance on a demanding day that was more than half the competitive distance of the rally.
“It was a good day, I really enjoyed it out there,” said Evans. “It was a great fight and of course there is still a long way to go tomorrow, but we will take it on stage by stage.”
Tanak didn’t have an answer to the Welshman this morning, but setup changes to his i20 while servicing the middle distance changed his feeling in the car and triggered his afternoon recovery.
Breen started the day in the lead, but the Irishman couldn’t keep up with the pace of his rivals. After taking first place from Evans in the second stage this morning, he fell behind Tänak in the afternoon opener and ended the day 19.5 seconds behind the lead.
Esapekka Lappi kept fourth place in his private Yaris. After yesterday’s opening battle, the Finn was 6.7 seconds behind the lead, but finished the penultimate stage 25.3 seconds behind Breen.
Kalle Rovanperä also took part in the Victory Battle on Friday evening. He knocked Lappi out of fourth place in Saturday’s opening test, but that mattered only three stages later when the Finn drifted far before crashing into a mound of earth and retiring with a frontal damage to his Yaris.
Leader of the standings Sébastien Ogier was fifth, another 38.9 seconds behind. The Frenchman stayed fighting with his Yaris all morning before setup changes boosted his confidence and resulted in improved times this afternoon.
His hopes were supported by the death of Thierry Neuville. The Belgian extended his lead over Ogier before giving up in the final stage of the forest when a compression broke the radiator and caused a water leak. Due to the subsequent engine failure, they will not start again on Sunday.
The Ford Fiesta duo Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux finished sixth and seventh, WRC2 leader Teemu Suninen finished eighth in a Volkswagen Polo GTI. Mads Østberg and WRC3 leader Emil Lindholm completed the list of the best.
Takamoto Katsuta was eliminated from eighth place this morning at Päijälä when he landed awkwardly after a jump and an impact threw his Toyota Yaris into the undergrowth. Since the right rear suspension was broken, the Japanese did not go any further.
Only four tests over 45.74 km make up the final on Sunday. The riders drive east of Jyväskylä for two runs each on the classic roads of Laukaa and the large hills of Ruuhimäki. The second pass from Ruuhimäki is the Wolf Power Stage, which pays bonus points.
• Full coverage of the Secto Automotive Rally Finland is available on WRC + All Live here, including every stage broadcast as well as important interviews, features and expert analyzes from the service park.