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WRC Sweden: Lappi preserves lead over M-Sport’s Fourmaux

Esapekka Lappi moved closer to ending his World Rally Championship victory drought after cruising through Saturday afternoon’s stages at Rally Sweden.

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Vincent Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport

The Hyundai driver will take a 1m06.3s advantage over M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux into Sunday's final three stages, with Toyota’s Elfyn Evans sitting 1m23.0s back in third, as he seeks a first win since his maiden success on the 2017 Rally Finland.

Lappi was pushed hard by Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta in the morning as the Finn saw his lead shrink to 0.9s. However, Katsuta’s charge was halted on stage 10 when the Japanese lost control and found a snowbank.

Ending Saturday on top has provisionally secured 18 points for Hyundai's third driver Lappi under the new points system, with Fourmaux picking up 15 and Evans claiming 13 points.

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville stands to collect 10 points after ending the day in fourth [+2m22.1s], having started the day in 11th overall. The points will be claimed if the crews finish the rally on Sunday.

Skoda driver Oliver Solberg completed the top five to lead the WRC2 class from Toyota’s Sami Pajari.

Reigning world champion Kalle Rovanpera and Hyundai’s Ott Tanak rejoined the rally after crashing out in stage four on Friday.

Unlike Friday, when heavy snow fell before the second pass of stages, Saturday’s afternoon’s clear weather meant the stages were heavily rutted with abrasive gravel coming through the layer of ice and snow on the road surface. Tyre preservation became the key objective.

Evans appeared to judge the conditions the best as the Welshman logged his first stage win of the event on stage 12 to nibble into the gap to second-placed Fourmaux.

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

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

Photo by: Toyota Racing

“I tried,” said Evans. “It’s difficult conditions in there, really a lot of gravel. For sure there’s more time to be had, but it’s difficult to find the balance. I’m not normally that good at that.”

Fourmaux reached the stage end 1.5s slower than Evans, but the Frenchman elected to back off to reduce the risk of picking up a puncture.

“There were a lot of rocks everywhere on the road and I was scared to get a puncture, so I decided to push less in the last part,” said Fourmaux.

“I even thought we had a puncture, but no. It’s quite rough, like a gravel stage. I just wanted to get through.”

Rally leader Lappi also opted to measure his pace to protect his lead and tyres, the Finn 8.7s slower than stage winner Evans.

Neuville meanwhile completed the task of jumping ahead of Solberg to claim fourth overall. The 2018 Sweden winner had tweaked the set up on his i20 N in the midday service.

M-Sport’s Gregoire Munster was lucky to survive a run in with a snowbank that resulted in his Ford Puma suffering a brief power loss. The Luxembourger escaped another scare on the next test when he ran wide at 90-degree junction.

Stage 13 was claimed by Neuville, although he declared his run through Sarsjoliden as “very bad” after a couple of loose moments. Despite his pace concerns, he emerged from the stage 0.2s faster than Evans.

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Fourmaux was slower than Evans again as his advantage over the Toyota driver in the battle for second was cut to 13.2s. At the front, Lappi continued to drive smartly to clock a time 4.6s slower than pacesetter Neuville.

Evans could only take a further three tenths out of Fourmaux across the 28.06km Stage 14, held in darkness. Fourmaux held his own through the test to take a 12.9s margin over the Toyota driver into Saturday's final stage.

Lappi once again refused to take any undue risk to complete the stage 13.5s off the pace set by team-mate Neuville, who scored a second consecutive stage win.

Rovanpera and Tanak were both faster than Lappi despite their road positions, the former suffering brake issues towards the end of the test.

There was late drama for M-Sport in the final stage of the day as both Fourmaux and Munster found the snowbanks on stage 15.

Munster went straight on at left-hander, burying his Puma deep in the snow. Munster and co-driver Louis Louka managed to dig the car out and eventually finished the stage, losing 14m55s.

Moments later team-mate Fourmaux misjudged a left-hander and was incredibly lucky to plough through a snowbank unscathed. The reigning British Rally champion completed the stage 3.8s faster than Evans, despite the off.

Neuville won the test to notch up a hat-trick of stage wins after pipping team-mate Tanak by 0.9s. Leader, Lappi made no mistakes to post the fourth fastest time, 2.2s slower than Rovanpera.

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