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Sat 05 Aug 2023

Charging Evans distances Finland foe Neuville

Elfyn Evans more than doubled his advantage over Secto Rally Finland rival Thierry Neuville after stringing together a clean sweep of stage wins on Saturday morning.

Kalle Rovanperä’s Friday retirement has left the door wide open for Evans and Neuville, his nearest championship challengers, to whittle down the Finn’s 55-point lead at this ninth round.

Just 6.9sec separated the duelling duo overnight and they continued fighting tooth and nail on wet gravel roads to the south of host city Jyväskylä this morning. But it was Evans’ superior speed in rain-soaked conditions that came to the fore as Neuville wrestled with wheelspin in his Hyundai i20 N.

The Welshman, driving a Toyota GR Yaris, won all four of the superfast special stages to stretch his buffer to 17.7sec by the day’s midpoint.

“It's still a pretty small gap and we've got a lot of rallying to do,” Evans mused. “We have to continue with our rhythm, it feels good to drive like this and if the performance is good enough then we have to carry on.”

Kalle Rovanperä’s Friday retirement has left the door wide open for Evans and Neuville, his nearest championship challengers, to whittle down the Finn’s 55-point lead at this ninth round.

Just 6.9sec separated the duelling duo overnight and they continued fighting tooth and nail on wet gravel roads to the south of host city Jyväskylä this morning. But it was Evans’ superior speed in rain-soaked conditions that came to the fore as Neuville wrestled with wheel spin in his Hyundai i20 N.

The Welshman, driving a Toyota GR Yaris, won all four of the superfast special stages to stretch his buffer to 17.7sec by the day’s midpoint.

“It's still a pretty small gap and we've got a lot of rallying to do,” Evans mused. “We have to continue with our rhythm, it feels good to drive like this and if the performance is good enough then we have to carry on.”

Neuville, who has finished on the Secto Rally Finland podium just once in 10 previous attempts, felt he was already driving on the limit. It’s likely he will make set-up tweaks in service in a bid to find more traction.

“From pure performance, no,” replied the Belgian when asked if he feels it’s possible catch the leader. “I don’t have the grip but the car is moving a lot, I have a lot of inertia.”

Takamoto Katsuta started the day in third overall but dropped behind Teemu Suninen after spinning his Toyota in Päijäla. They reached service split by a single second after Katsuta outpaced the Hyundai man through the morning’s final pair of stages.

Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala remained fifth overall on his one-off return to driving. The 38-year-old is not engaged in any battles but continued to enjoy the experience alongside co-driver Juh Hänninen.

Jari Huttunen clung onto sixth overall and the WRC2 lead by just 1.3sec after coming under pressure from Sami Pajari, who previously dropped down the order after puncturing on Friday. Oliver Solberg was eighth while Nikolay Gryazin and Adrien Fourmaux completed the top 10.