Elfyn Evans was catapulted into the lead of Secto Rally Finland when team-mate Kalle Rovanperä’s golden streak came to an abrupt halt during Friday’s opening leg.
Home hero Rovanperä, who carried a commanding 55-point lead into this ninth FIA World Rally Championship round, reeled off five consecutive benchmark times in a Toyota GR Yaris and headed chasing colleague Evans by 5.7sec approaching the day’s seventh stage in Myhinpää.
But a rare mistake 11.1km after the start brought a disastrous end to the defending world champion’s day when he lost control of his GR Yaris and rolled end-over-end. Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen emerged from the wreckage unscathed despite the force of the impact being strong enough to tear a rear wheel from the car.
Evans, currently second in the points, inherited the top spot from his stranded team-mate and negotiated the remaining two stages error-free to head Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville by a mere 6.9sec overnight.
“Overall it’s been an okay day,” said Evans, who was frustrated to give away 2.8sec to Neuville in the Harju finale. “We’re pretty happy overall and obviously we’ve still got a lot of driving to do tomorrow.”
Mistakes were punished brutally on central Finland’s superfast gravel roads and Rovanperä wasn’t the only victory contender to come unstuck. His Hyundai-driving compatriot Esapekka Lappi crashed into a tree in SS4 whilst running fourth overall.
Ott Tänak, leader after Thursday’s evening’s super special stage in Jyväskylä city centre, retired his Puma in SS3 with terminal engine failure and his M-Sport Ford partner Pierre-Louis Loubet crashed in the same test.
Neuville’s day wasn’t without drama, either. The Belgian reported a lack of rear traction early in the day and struggled for visibility under scattered rain showers on multiple occasions. He headed Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta, who won the opening stage, by 9.5sec at close of play.
In fourth overall and within reaching distance of the podium was Teemu Suninen. The Finn is contesting his second rally aboard an i20 N Rally1 and trailed Katsuta by 12.4sec after building his speed throughout the day.
Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala rounded out the top five on his first WRC start since 2020. Behind him was Jari Huttunen, who led WRC2 in a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 after leapfrogging Sami Pajari when the youngster suffered tyre damage in the penultimate stage.
Toksport WRT2’s Nikolay Gryazin, Oliver Solberg, both in a Škoda Fabia RS, and Adrien Fourmaux in an M-Sport Ford-entered Fiesta MkII, complete the top 10 going into Saturday, host to the rally’s longest leg with eight special stages totalling 160.68km.
Benjamin Korhola heads the WRC3 class, ahead of fellow countryman Jesse Kallio (+32.0) and Turkey’s Ali Türkkan, almost two minutes behind, all in Ford Fiesta Rally3 cars.