Elfyn Evans led Corsica linea - Tour de Corse on Friday night following a controversial end to the opening leg when he was baulked by another competitor.
He started the final speed test leading Ott Tänak by 4.5sec in his Ford Fiesta, but was inadvertently delayed for nearly a minute after catching a limping Kris Meeke near the end.
Evans finished nearly 11sec slower than Tänak, provisionally plunging to third and promoting the Toyota Yaris driver to first. However, officials credited Evans with the same time as the Estonian, restoring him to first with an unchanged advantage.
The pair fought tooth and nail all day on twisty asphalt in the island’s southern mountains. Evans led initially before Tänak edged ahead after the morning loop, only for the Welshman to regain his advantage this afternoon as Tänak suffered a damper problem.
“The issue in the final stage was a difficult one to call but I think the outcome was fair. It’s been a really positive day, but we have another big one tomorrow. We have to take the fight to Ott and we know that when everything is working, we can be better and faster,” said Evans.
Thierry Neuville was third, 5.3sec adrift of Tänak. He struggled with his Hyundai i20’s handling but became increasingly comfortable as the day progressed and ended with fastest time in the final stage.
He headed team-mate Dani Sordo by 16.3sec. The Spaniard was third for most of the morning but could not reproduce the pace when the stages were repeated and fell away.
Teemu Suninen was fifth, careful to avoid mistakes in his Fiesta after his early exit at the previous round in Mexico. He had 5.4sec in hand over a frustrated Sébastien Ogier, who failed to find the expected speed which led many to make him favourite.
An opening stage spin cost 10sec and left him eighth, but the Citroën C3 driver struggled with understeer all day and climbed to sixth only as a result of others’ problems. Team-mate Esapekka Lappi was seventh, the Finn equally unhappy and dropping time with a spin.
Sébastien Loeb, four times a winner in Corsica, battled back to eighth after losing two minutes in the opening test when his i20 slid into a kerb and broke a rear suspension arm. WRC 2 leader Eric Camilli and Yoann Bonato completed the leaderboard.
Jari-Matti Latvala was one of many to struggle with pace notes on the new stages. He was sixth until dropping to 13th after stopping to replace a wheel on his Yaris.
An opening stage puncture delayed Meeke after he hit a stone. His problems worsened when he clipped a kerb and damaged his Yaris’ rear right suspension. He ended 15th, nearly four minutes adrift.
The rally moves to the north of the island on Saturday for the longest leg of the weekend, featuring more than half the total competitive distance. Two identical anti-clockwise loops of three tests near Bastia provide 174.50km of action.
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