JARI-Matti Latvala overcame a late gearbox problem to edge ahead of Elfyn Evans and lead the Tour de Corse-Rallye de France after Saturday’s second leg.
Latvala switched to the manual gearshift system in his Volkswagen Polo R during the final stage. Although that cost time, the Finn did enough to end the penultimate leg 2.0sec clear of surprise pacesetter Evans.
Storm damage forced the cancellation of the opening stage for a second day. But Latvala rocketed through the next test to slash Evans’ 22.9sec overnight advantage to just 1.7sec, before gaining the initiative in the final 48.46km stage near Corte, the longest of the rally.
“I had a problem with the gearbox shifting down and lost my rhythm,” Latvala said.
“It was difficult under braking because I couldn’t trust the gears. I had to use the manual shift but we got through and now we need to change the gearbox.”
Evans, chasing a maiden WRC win in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS, wasn’t as confident as Friday.
“I didn’t have the same rhythm. I went well in some places but not in others and it was difficult to be confident, but it’s all still to play for tomorrow,” he said.
Friday’s downpours were replaced by sunshine, leaving exposed mountain roads dry on Satuday morning while those in the shade were covered by a slippery layer of slime. The contrast in grip was greater than in persistent rain and conditions proved equally difficult.
Andreas Mikkelsen leapt from seventh to third in a Polo R, which understeered through the last stage. He was 30.8sec off the lead and 22.8sec ahead of Kris Meeke, who followed him up the leaderboard from eighth to fourth in Citroën’s DS3.
Kevin Abbring, second on Friday night, dropped to fifth in his Hyundai i20. He admitted his morning gamble of hard tyres was a mistake, compounded by a slow puncture, and the Dutchman felt his afternoon set-up was too conservative.
Sixth was Mads Østberg, the Norwegian losing time in the morning when his DS3 was set up for drier conditions. Hayden Paddon, Bryan Bouffier, Stéphane Sarrazin, who lost turbo boost and bent a steering arm, and Ott Tänak completed the leaderboard.
Sébastien Ogier, who retired on Friday night with a gearbox problem, restarted in 55th place and won the final stage en route to 24th.
However, his Volkswagen Motorsport team was fined 10,000 euros by officials after the champion-elect and co-driver Julien Ingrassia failed to follow a WRC safety procedure on Friday.
The pair was leading the rally when they stopped midway through stage three to change a punctured rear tyre. But they failed to press the car’s ‘OK’ button, to alert rally control there was no emergency.
Stewards noted the importance of using the OK button and levied the fine on Volkswagen, 8000 Euros of which was suspended and payable if the team commits a similar infringement before the end of the 2016 season.
After an overnight halt in Porto-Vecchio, Sunday’s final leg comprises three more stages covering 94.91km, now the longest day of the rally.