Ott Tänak mastered Saturday’s second leg of Arctic Rally Finland Powered by CapitalBox to carry a substantial lead into Sunday’s finale.
The Estonian won three of the six superfast snow and ice speed tests in a Hyundai i20 to add to Friday’s opening leg double. He heads Kalle Rovanperä by 24.1sec with two more remaining at this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
His joy was in contrast to the disappointment suffered by world champion Sébastien Ogier. The championship leader buried his Toyota Yaris into a snowbank 200 metres from the end of the closing test and plunged off the leaderboard as he battled for 20min to dig it out.
Tänak stretched his advantage to 23.6sec after winning two of this morning's three stages in perfect winter conditions in Lapland's forests. He held the Finnish youngster and a fast-closing Thierry Neuville at bay this afternoon to put himself in a strong position.
"This afternoon was all about getting through and we didn't make any mistakes," said Tänak. "This morning we were still pushing a bit but this afternoon it was important just to come through. The last stage was quite stressful, but for us there was no need to push."
Despite overnight set-up changes to his Yaris, Rovanperä remained frustrated with his car's balance. He yielded a few seconds after swiping a snowbank and after winning the penultimate stage, he came under fierce pressure from a charging Neuville in the final test.
The Belgian's tyre strategy worked to perfection and he was quickest by more than 12sec to slash Rovanpera's advantage to 1.8sec. It was a better afternoon for Neuville who earlier struggled to hear co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe's pace notes above his i20's engine noise.
Team-mate Craig Breen found tyre management more tricky as conditions worsened this afternoon. With frozen gravel poking through the ice and loose snow on the surface, the Irishman fell back to fourth, almost 30sec adrift of Neuville.
Toyota's Elfyn Evans broke Tänak's run of stage wins this morning but the Welshman also struggled to manage his tyres and admitted he was often too cautious. He was 10.1sec behind Breen.
Oliver Solberg surpassed all expectations on his WRC World Rally Car debut. The 19-year-old was a stunning third in the opening stage and returned to the Rovaniemi base in sixth – despite losing his glasses ahead of the final stage!