Tanak claimed the lead on the day’s first stage, winning three of Friday’s eight completed stages to hold an 8.3s lead, which was cut to 3.8s after Lappi closed the day with three consecutive stage wins.
Toyota’s Elfyn Evans struggled to match the top two throughout on the fast gravel stages, but reached service in third 19.3s adrift, but ahead of rally favourite and championship leader Kalle Rovanpera. The Finn coped well with opening the roads at his home event to end Friday fourth, albeit 21.0s behind Tanak.
The sunshine from the morning was replaced by overcast conditions with spots of moisture in the air, but the change in weather failed to dampen the afternoon battle between Tanak and Lappi at the front.
Tanak admitted he was taking risks in Stage 7 but they paid off as the Estonian claimed his third stage win of the event. He took 2.1s out of Lappi, who finished second fastest on the test and was full of praise for his rival.
“It’s not a battle. I am losing all the time! Ott is doing a good job,” said Lappi.
Evans continued to struggle to find the sweet spot in his GR Yaris, dropping 2.0s to Rovanpera in the battle for third overall after drama struck Breen, who had started the afternoon loop sitting fourth.
Breen hit a rock during the stage with the right corner of his Puma which cost him 10.1s and dropped the Irishman to fifth overall.
Meanwhile, Rovanpera pushed hard in the stage revealing that he “left nothing in there” but his time was 2.2s shy of pacesetter Tanak.
Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
Photo by: Toyota Racing
Lappi responded to the challenge laid down by Tanak on Stage 8 as the Finn managed to eclipse a stunning benchmark posted by the rally leader.
For the first time in the rally Tanak said he felt comfortable behind the wheel and produced a time that left many of the field stunned. However, it was not enough to deny Lappi, who ended the test 2.1s faster to cut Tanak’s lead down to 6.2s.
Rovanpera remained in the thick of the fight posting the third fastest time, which left him only a second behind Evans in the battle for third overall.
Breen was still feeling the effects of the impact on the previous stage and was forced to manage a wounded Puma. The Irishman wasn’t the only M-Sport fighting an issue as debutant Jari Huttunen suddenly lost power during the stage.
The Finn, who started the stage in eighth, was able to re-fire the car before stopping again and was left to reach the stage end under significantly reduced power with a fuel pressure issue, which continued on the next test.
At the front, Lappi continued to turn the screw on Tanak after winning Stage 9 to reduce the lead down to 5.3s as the latter felt his i20 N began to feel lazy.
The battle for third overall remained intense as fourth-placed Rovanpera managed to take another 0.5s out of Evans, who felt much stronger on the day’s penultimate stage.
Breen was fifth fastest on the stage, and despite powering through the tricky stage, he still had time to wave at some of his supporters.
Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1
Photo by: M-Sport
The day’s final stage saw Lappi turn up the heat again by pipping Tanak by 0.9s to close within 3.8s of the rally lead.
Evans managed to open the gap over Rovanpera for third after the latter survived a wild moment. Rovanpera somehow managed to wrestle the car away from what could have been a massive impact with the trees after running wide at a left hander.
Rally Finland continues on Saturday with 150km of competitive stages awaiting the crews.
WRC Rally Finland – Classification after Stage 10 (top 10)