Evans grabs the lead, Loeb retires by engine fire

Evans swept three treacherous gravel stages to move up to an 8.5sec lead over teammate Sebastien Ogier, who won the opening stage on Thursday.

Night leader Ogier was fortunate to return to duty after stopping briefly on a section of the road to clear dust from his GR Yaris.

Toyota took the top four with championship leader and road sweeper Kali Rovanpera, third, about 11.6 seconds back, while Takamoto Katsuta finished the loop in fourth.

M-Sport’s Loeb completed the three stages in fifth overall, but an engine fire at the end of Stage 4 forced the nine-time champion out of the rally. It was not clear if he would return on Saturday.

Loeb’s death upgraded Craig Breen to fifth, ahead of Hyundai’s Otanak, who wasted time due to a gear lever failure. M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux finished the morning seventh against Thierry Neuville who had a power problem, while Oliver Solberg was ninth.

Gus Greensmith was running fourth before his right back hole in Stage 4 knocked him down 19th overall.

The morning loop started with Loeb driving down the road as the Frenchman set the pace for stage two, the traditional first stage of the rally.

The M-Sport driver’s arrival to the winning stage wasn’t without a problem after brushing with a tree, while correcting the speed note, damaging the rear chassis of his Puma.

Evans was just 0.2sec shy of Loeb with Ogier’s third-fastest time ahead of Formo.

It proved to be a rough start for Hyundai as Tanak had to navigate the stage without a working gear lever. Initially the mechanism shattered before exploding completely in his hands, resulting in him losing 36.4 seconds.

The third stage, a new addition to this year’s rally, belongs to Rovanpera, who challenged his position on the road to set the fastest time.

Katsuta was the second-fastest team ahead of Evans, Auger and Tanak, who lost just 3.2 seconds despite a gear shift issue. In the gap between the stage, the Estonian was able to celebrate the jubilee by clipping the wheel strut on the cut lever in order to change the speed.

Teammate Neuville struggled for confidence in second on the road and was only able to set up a seventh-fastest time.

The final stage of 31.25 km from the morning proved to be the toughest as its crews faced a section of deep fesh-fish sand that threatened to trap competitors.

Despite a lot of dust inside his car, Rovanpera won the stage to finish third in the overall standings.

Tanak was second, returning 4.1 seconds despite losing time in his dust.

“That was the least of our problems,” Tanak said. “I think in the last part, they’ll soon start getting bogged down because there’s no way anymore. We just went through.”

Loeb also suffered the same fate on a sharp turn that took him from third to fifth, before an engine fire broke out at the end of the stage, preventing him from exiting the three remaining stages on Friday.

Neuville and Ogier both suffered a loss of power after their car swallowed a large amount of dust at the end of the stage. Neuville lost 54.6 seconds when his airbox became loose and sand rushed directly into his engine, while Ogier dropped 20.6 seconds due to sand in his Yaris airbox.

Circumstances prompted Katsuta to state, “I don’t want to lead this stage anymore! It’s too bad.”

Motorsport.com understands that teams will discuss stage terms with the FIA ​​before the second pass this afternoon.

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