Even a rapid performance wasn’t enough for Craig Breen to widen his advantage over Ott Tänak, despite outperforming his rival on two out of Saturday morning’s three stages on Rally Sweden.
Impressive runs over the opening pair of snowy stages enabled Breen to pull 5.7s clear of his M-Sport Ford rival on round two of the FIA World Rally Championship, but a lack of experience on the closing Sävar stage undid the Irishman’s hard work.
By dropping 2.7s to Tänak over the 17.28-kilometre test, Breen, who is co-driven by James Fulton, was pretty much back to where he started the day – just 3.0 clear at the top.
“Unfortunately, it’s one of those instances where I never got to do this stage last year and this was my first time discovering it,” the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid driver explained. “There were places I was a little too cautious and hesitant, but it’s fine.
“The car worked well on the second pass yesterday, so I’m absolutely full of confidence,” Breen added, feeling optimistic about today’s four remaining stages.
Tänak admitted to feeling uncomfortable behind the wheel of his Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid, although the more twisty characteristics of the final test did seem more suited to the car. He heads into this afternoon’s second pass 14.0s clear of Esapekka Lappi.
Lappi wasn’t entirely satisfied with his morning efforts as overnight set-up tweaks seemed to do more harm than good to the handling of his i20. The Finn plans to revert to his Friday set-up for this afternoon’s loop.
Another 10.3s behind is Kalle Rovanperä, who fought with understeer after overnight suspension alterations didn’t work in his favour. Despite his frustrations, the Finn did manage to seize fourth overall from Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid team-mate Elfyn Evans on SS10. Evans’ confidence was lacking, and he leaked time to those around him. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville – the winner of SS9 – has piled on the pressure and completed the loop a mere second in arrears of the Welshman.
Ford Puma youngster Pierre-Louis Loubet remains a lonely seventh overall while FIA WRC2 frontrunners Oliver Solberg (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2), Ole Christian Veiby (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5) and Jari Huttunen (Škoda) complete the top 10. Sami Pajari, who had been second in the category, dropped down the order due to a high-speed spin but still heads the WRC2 Challenger classification. William Creighton leads FIA WRC3 and FIA Junior WRC, while Michał Sołowow is the driver to beat in WRC Masters.
Rally Sweden continues with the rerun of Norrby, a 12.54-kilometre stage, from 14h05 CET.