Evans closes in on leader Rovanpera, Tanak drops out
WRC championship leader Rovanpera managed to survive three brutal stages on the Kenyan savannah to reach service with a 19.4 second lead over Evans.
Takamoto Katsuta, who started the day second, dropped to third with the Japanese rider now 39.9 seconds behind.
But fourth-placed Tanak saw his podium hopes dashed when his Hyundai came to a halt with a mechanical problem.
His compatriot Hyundai Thierry Neuville was therefore promoted to fourth ahead of the fourth Toyota driven by Sébastien Ogier, the eight-time world champion losing more than two minutes on a puncture on Friday afternoon.
Oliver Solberg lost time with a puncture to finish the loop in seventh position for Hyundai, ahead of M-Sport’s Craig Breen – the Irishman who rejoined the rally after retiring on Friday with broken steering.
M-Sport’s rally went from bad to worse as Adrien Fourmaux retired for the second time this weekend after a rear differential put him out of action yesterday. This time, the French suffered a broken left rear suspension following contact with a rock.
Teammate Gus Greensmith did even worse after running his Puma, which was eventually retired due to cooling issues.
Fourmaux gave up again after contact with a rock
Photo by: M-Sport
The morning started with Evans on a charge. The Welshman won stage 8 by 3.6 seconds ahead of Neuville, who damaged his windscreen after cutting down a tree.
Rovanpera was third fastest but lost 6.3 seconds, while Katsuta lost 18.8 seconds and was demoted to third place overall.
“The stage is okay, but I was confused with the pace notes and didn’t know where I was going,” said the Japanese driver.
There was a lot of drama in the test, as Fourmaux hit a rock and suffered a puncture which cost him two minutes. A left-rear suspension failure pushed him back three minutes and landed him in the clutches of Breen, the Irishman also delayed in the hanging dust. Fourmaux was unable to repair his car on the next stretch of road.
Greensmith rolled his Puma on a slow right-hander after getting caught in a rut. Driver and co-driver Jonas Andersson were trapped in the car with the vehicle on its side, forcing the pair to kick the windshield to get free.
After straightening the car, Greensmith continued with some more air conditioning, before retiring due to engine cooling issues.
Hyundai’s Solberg also ran into trouble when his i20 N slowly punctured after hitting a rock, causing him to lose 1m15.9s.
The next test, step 9, was claimed by Neuville. He edged Sebastien Loeb, the M-Sport driver back to action after retiring on Friday when an engine fire forced him to use electric mode which drained the battery.
Up front, Evans chipped away at Rovanpera’s lead again as the gap narrowed to 15.0 seconds.
Solberg was delayed with a puncture and was also penalized for arriving late
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
Meanwhile, Solberg was handed a 1m10s penalty for starting the stage late – after spending too long trying to repair the damage caused by his collision with a rock.
Rovanpera managed to extend their lead on the final stage of the loop after Evans suffered a puncture near the end of the 31.04km test.
The Finn took 4.2 seconds from his teammate, while Neuville took another stage victory. Ogier was fourth fastest in the test, despite braking hard to avoid a zebra glare.
However, the bigger story was Tanak, who stopped 28.8km into the stage with his bad-sounding i20 N. It briefly started before stopping again with the problem seemingly ending.
Teams will tackle a repeat of the morning stages this afternoon to wrap up Saturday’s action.
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