Ott Tänak unleashed a late Saturday charge on Rally Sweden, demoting Craig Breen to second overall heading into Sunday’s three-stage finale.
The duelling duo traded times over the course of the FIA World Rally Championship event’s longest day, with Breen holding on to a marginal advantage at the halfway point of the leg.
As the snow-covered roads became more and more rutted in the fading light of the afternoon loop, Tänak began to reel in his Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team rival – arriving at the start of the penultimate Sävar test just half a second in arrears after Breen had suffered time loss with a damaged tyre.
There, Tänak excelled in the night-time conditions, with the split times showing he was on course to outpace Breen by around 10s. In another dramatic twist, however, the Estonian suffered near-identical tyre troubles to his opponent – but still managed to better the Irishman’s time by 2.8s and snatch the lead.
Tänak was faster again as Breen complained of a hybrid issue in the final Umeå blast. He ended 8.6s to the good, laying the foundations for the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s first victory in more than one year.
"It was a challenging day,” admitted Puma Rally1 Hybrid driver Tänak. “We had everything planned for the last two stages – to keep the tyres and make the time up there – but then we lost them, and we had to do the last stage with no studs on one tyre. It's never comfortable until it's done. Let's get to the finish first.”
Esapekka Lappi fell down the order after running wide on a left-hander on SS13, plunging his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid into a snowbank. The Finn’s delay opened the door for Thierry Neuville and Kalle Rovanperä to fight for the final podium spot.
Rovanperä, driving a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid, held the upper hand until late in the day, but he gave way to Hyundai’s Neuville through the final stage as his studded tyres wore out. The pair were split by 3.8s at close of play, with Neuville only 15.1s adrift of Breen.
Elfyn Evans lacked confidence aboard his Yaris and subsequently fell behind the aforementioned pair, ending the day more than half a minute further back.
Pierre-Louis Loubet brought his Puma back to Umeä for the overnight halt in sixth overall ahead of FIA WRC2 leader Oliver Solberg, who holds a commanding lead in the premier support category aboard his Škoda Fabia RS Rally2. Ole Christian Veiby (Volkswagen Polo), Sami Pajari and Nikolay Gryazin (both Škoda) complete the top 10.
Pajari leads the FIA WRC2 Challenger category with his fellow Finn Roope Korhonen ahead in FIA WRC3. Laurent Pellier moved ahead of overnight leader William Creighton in FIA Junior WRC after Creighton was delayed by his bonnet opening early on stage 13.
Michał Sołowow’s advantage in the WRC Masters category is more than seven minutes after 15 stages.
Sunday’s third and final leg is made up of two passes through the all-new 26.48-kilometre Västervik stage, plus the 10.08-kilometre Umeå Power Stage, used for the first time on Saturday evening.