Elfyn Evans took the lead in Rally Finland on Saturday as Sébastien Ogier, chasing an eighth world title, finished the day in fifth place despite a penalty – for a loose helmet.
Evans, driving a Toyota, started the day in third place but swept four stages in the morning to master the race, widely regarded as the fastest on the circuit.
The Welsh driver edged Hyundai’s Ott Tanak, who won three stages in the afternoon, by 9.1 seconds.
This was enough for the Estonian to snatch second place from his Irish teammate Craig Breen who is almost 20 seconds behind Evans.
“It was a good morning for us and I had a good feeling behind the wheel. We just tried to keep a good pace,” said Evans.
Finland’s Esapekka Lappi, in a private Toyota, is fourth with world champion Ogier, in another factory Toyota, 1min 23.7sec from the pace.
Ogier was seventh at the start of the day but benefited from the retirement of young Finnish teammate Kalle Rovanpera and Belgian Thierry Neuville.
However, French star Ogier was later sentenced to a one-minute penalty for failing to properly fasten his helmet strap, the stewards said.
He committed the same offense in Monte Carlo in January and, as such, the stewards imposed a time penalty as well as a fine of 800 euros ($ 928) on the Toyota driver.
“Ogier told the stewards that he had no way of explaining why the strap would come loose during the stage,” the official WRC website said.
“He said that there was no emergency to attach the helmet at the start of the stage and that it was different from the Monte-Carlo incident where he simply forgot to attach the strap of the helmet.
“He also added that there was no way he would only half-attach the helmet; it was done correctly or not at all.”
Four more stages in Finland will be contested on Sunday where Ogier hopes to at least rack up points in the power stage before his next realistic chance to win the title arrives in Spain later this month.
Ogier started the rally with a 44-point championship lead over Evans and 50 ahead of Neuville.
1. Elfyn Evans – Scott Martin (GBR / Toyota) 1 h 57: 46.7 min, 2. Ott Tanak – Martin Järveoja (EST / Hyundai) at 9.1, 3. Craig Breen – Paul Nagle (IRL / Hyundai) 19.5, 4. Esapekka Lappi- Janne Ferm (FIN / Toyota) 44.8, 5. Sébastien Ogier – Julien Ingrassia (FRA / Toyota) 2: 23.7, 6. Gus Greensmith – Chris Patterson (GBR-IRL / M-Sport Ford) 4: 16.9, 7 Adrien Fourmaux – Alexandre Coria (FRA / Ford Fiesta) 5: 31.5, 8. Teemu Sunninen-Mikko Markkula (FIN / Volkswagen / WRC2) 8: 21.4
Stage winners: Evans 6 (ES6, ES7, ES8, ES9, ES10, ES14), Tanak 6 (ES3, ES4, ES11, ES12, ES13, ES15), Breen 2 (ES2, ES5), Katsuta 1 (ES1)
Pensions: Takamoto Katsuta – Aaron Johnston (JPN-IRL / Toyota), Kalle Rovanpera-Jonne Halttunen (FIN / Toyota), Thierry Neuville – Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL / Hyundai)