Kalle Rovanpera extended his WRC Acropolis Rally lead to 30.8 seconds after winning four of Saturday’s six stages on the World Rally Championship’s return to Greece.
The 20-year-old Finn swept the first four stages, but struggled slightly in the final pair after making ride height changes to his Toyota Yaris WRC.
“The morning went well, and overall I am happy. But I think we had the wrong setup for this afternoon and we lost a lot of traction,” said Rovanpera, who also complained of a lazy-feeling car in the afternoon stages’ tighter sections, thanks to the added weight of carrying a second spare tire. “Anyway, we’re in a good position, so let’s see what happens tomorrow.”
Grip and traction issues were a theme for the day. With the stages still drying after heavy rain in the days before the event, conditions varied a lot. Sections of dry gravel, residual damp patches, and hard-baked mud — “like polished clay,” according to Toyota’s Elfyn Evans — made tire selection something of a gamble.
One driver going aggressive on his tire choice was Ott Tanak. The Hyundai driver started the day in second, just 3.7s behind Rovanpera, but lost time in the early stages. Still he managed to put some space between himself and third-placed Sebastien Ogier, until the Frenchman’s Yaris WRC started to come alive in the afternoon.
Ogier was fastest overall on the day’s fifth stage, closing to 2.5s of Tanak, but the Estonian pulled out the stops on the day’s final test, finishing it 3.8s quicker than Rovanpera and, crucially for the battle for second, 6.9s to the good over Ogier.
“I managed to do something (to the car) that really helped, and I made the right tire choice,” said Tanak, who’d fitted three softs and one hard to his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC for his late charge. “I’m having to be aggressive on tire choice to stay with the Toyotas.”
With the bigger picture in mind, WRC points leader Ogier was sanguine about losing time to Tanak in the day’s final stage.
“The grip has been a little more consistent in the final stages today and I think the afternoon loop was good,” said the seven-time and reigning champ. “We are still following our plan, so it’s so far, so good.”
Hyundai’s Dani Sordo holds fourth, 1m29.2s adrift of Ogier, but 1m09.8s ahead of the first of the squabbling M-Sport Fords.
In that battle for best of the Fiesta WRCs, Adrien Fourmaux leads Gus Greensmith by 15.8s, but Greensmith’s edging of the Frenchman by 4.3s in the day’s final stage shows the intra-team duel isn’t over yet.
Toyota’s Elfyn Evans clawed his way back to seventh overall and Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville finished the day in 10th place, following Friday’s gearbox and power-steering woes, respectively. But as the closest chasers to Ogier in the overall WRC points, they’ll be hoping for a big showing in Sunday’s points-paying Power Stage to bolster their fading challenge.
In WRC2, Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen overhauled his TOKSPORT Skoda teammate Marco Bulacia in the opening stages, but the Bolivian turned it on through the final pair of stages to regain the class lead by a scant 0.8s going into the final day.
“I tried to drive fast, but not over the limit,” said WRC2 championship leader Mikkelsen. “Marco’s driving well, but I don’t want to risk too much — I have a championship to think about”
American duo Sean Johnston and Alex Kihurani lie 18th overall, and 10th of the WRC2 entries, in their Sainteloc Junior Team Citroen C3.
Sunday’s final leg consists of three special stages and 43 competitive miles, including the rally ending, 7.9-mile Tarzan 2 Power Stage.
Top 10 after day two/Special Stage 12:
1 Kalle Rovanpero/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2h36m52.8s
2 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +30.8s
3 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC) +40.2s
4 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2m09.4s
5 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC) +3m19.2s
6 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC) +3m35s
7 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota Yaris WRC) +5m51.9s
8 Marco Bulacia/Marcelo der Ohannesian (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +7m09s
9 Andreas Mikkelsen/Elliott Edmondson (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +7m09.8s
10 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +7m47.6s
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