Kalle Rovanperä dominated Saturday morning at Acropolis Rally Greece by completing a clean sweep of stage victories to extend his lead to almost 40sec.
Rovanperä, Ott Tänak and Sébastien Ogier were covered by 3.9sec as the field restarted. But the 20-year-old showed a clean pair of heels to his rivals over four classic speed tests in the mountains of Fthiotida, between Lamia and Itea.
After wins in Pavliani and Gravia, Rovanperä had a narrow escape near the end of Bauxites when the rear of his Yaris slid into a ditch.
“It was a huge moment,” he smiled. “I have to say we were lucky to escape and that there was nothing in the ditch. It was maybe a bit too much from the pace notes. I was pushing a bit too much. I tried to be a bit more careful after that.”
The Finn was still fastest and then won the closing Eleftherohori, stretching his advantage to 39.7sec before the respite of service.
Tänak was second fastest in the first three tests but dropped almost 20sec in Eleftherohori. The Estonian remained tight-lipped over a possible problem in his Hyundai i20, but his advantage over Ogier in third was slashed to 3.6sec.
The wily Ogier used all his experience to settle into a fast, but safe pace. With closest title rivals Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville floundering down the order after problems yesterday, the Frenchman knows a solid podium will further enhance his points lead.
Dani Sordo was almost 50sec further back in another i20. The Spaniard struggled for confidence with his i20 moving around at the rear but found himself in a lonely fourth, more than 70sec clear of Adrien Fourmaux’s Ford Fiesta.
The Frenchman nosed into a roadside barrier in Gravia but was 17.3sec clear of team-mate Gus Greensmith, who conceded a handful of seconds with a spin in Bauxites.
Eleftherohori was halted after Rovanperä finished the stage for spectator safety reasons. The following drivers will all be awarded notional times so while Evans’ return to the leaderboard is guaranteed, the Welshman’s exact position is uncertain.
Toksport’s Andreas Mikkelsen overhauled Skoda Fabia team-mate Marco Bulacia to lead FIA WRC2, with Yohan Rossel now heading FIA WRC3 in a Citroën C3 Rally2. All three were nestled around Evans in the lower reaches of the top 10.