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WRC Croatia: Evans moves a step closer to victory

Toyota’s Elfyn Evans is on course to claim a comfortable World Rally Championship victory in Croatia after extending his lead on Sunday morning.

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

McKlein / Motorsport Images

The two-time championship runner-up produced a measured drive across the morning’s three stages to push his advantage over M-Sport Ford’s Ott Tanak out to 28.1s ahead of the final stage.

Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi maintained third position, 1m02.7s adrift, while his team-mate Thierry Neuville returned to action after crashing out of the lead on Saturday morning.

World champion Kalle Rovanpera leapfrogged Toyota team-mate Sebastien Ogier into fourth, although 6.3s separated the pair. Takamoto Katsuta and M-Sport’s Pierre-Louis Loubet completed the Rally1 runners.

Toyota dominated the early morning start in Zagreb recording a 1-2-3-4 on stage 17 which featured roads not included in last year’s rally that Rovanpera had previously tested.

Despite being frustrated with his effort after electing to change his driving style, the Finn emerged fastest by 3.7s over Ogier, which was enough to wrestle fourth overall away from his team-mate.

The fight for the victory also continued to swing in Evans’ favour after he clocked the third-fastest time, 5.1s faster than rival Tanak, and therefore extended his rally lead to 30.5s.

“I heard the time of Kalle and I wasn't sure if it would be enough to be honest, but all good,” said Evans.

After suffering a series of issues with his Ford Puma on Saturday evening, Tanak didn’t report a continuation of these at stage end but was resigned to focusing on finishing the rally.

“I think if we can get to the end that would already be a positive. Let's try to finish this," said Tanak, who was 2.7s slower than Neuville.

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

While Tanak logged a clean run, his team-mate Loubet suffered an issue with his Puma and was reduced to completing the stage in road mode.

Tanak did nibble at the gap to Evans in stage 18, the first pass of the test which will host the rally ending Power Stage. Evans opted for a measured approach and dropped 1.3s to Tanak, bringing the lead under half a minute.

The stage was won by Neuville as the Hyundai driver pipped Rovanpera by 0.9s, the latter admitted he could have been braver in his run.

“We tried to enjoy the run through and confirm the pacenotes for the Power Stage,” said Neuville. “We are going to try hard but I'm not sure we are going to be able to take a lot of points.”

Ogier could only manage a time 5.4s shy of Neuville as the battle for fourth seemed to be heading in Rovanpera’s favour.

Loubet’s Puma appeared to be back at full speed but the Frenchman clipped a corner cutting marker towards the end of the stage which bent his steering.

The final stage of the morning belonged to Rovanpera despite an issue with the startline clock which appeared to be lagging for several competitors. The Finn wasn’t happy with his run but he was still the benchmark, 0.1s faster than Ogier, who endured a wild slide in his run.

“This was not a good stage for me, I was not doing well,” said Rovanpera. “Even the startline was a bit of a mess - the clock was not working normally so the launch and everything was a bit stressful.”

Tanak was third fastest and among the group caught out by the startline clock. He was 1.1s faster than Evans, who continued his calculated approach.

Citroen driver Yohan Rossel held a 13.4s lead over Nikolay Gryazin in WRC2.

The rally will conclude after this afternoon’s Power Stage.

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