Just four stages stand between Kalle Rovanperä and back-to-back FIA World Rally Championship crowns after his only remaining title rival Elfyn Evans crashed out of Central European Rally on Saturday.
“It’s good to be at the finish of the day,” said Rovanperä, who simply needs a drama-free run through the closing stages to clinch the title. “It’s tough out there. I think these are the most tough Tarmac rally conditions I have ever seen.”
Neuville, who is in line to become the first-ever Central European Rally winner, added: “All afternoon we tried to manage the gap and I am happy to finish the day in the lead of the rally. We are following our target.”
Ott Tänak ensured that all three top-line manufacturers ended the day on the podium, bringing his Ford Puma to the end in a lonely third overall. A non-functioning handbrake caused the M-Sport man some frustrations in SS14, and he trailed Rovanperä by over one minute with Sébastien Ogier 31.1sec behind.
The Welshman had been the only other driver still in contention for this year’s drivers’ championship crown but misjudged a slippery right-hander and slid into a barn door.
Unable to continue today, Evans’ retirement means that a drama-free finish will all but guarantee Rovanperä the title come Sunday.
“I knew that Elfyn was off, so why would I risk anything anymore?” Rovanperä said. “It’s a real shame for Elfyn and Scott (Martin, co-driver). They put on a good fight and it would have been really tricky for us to keep pushing.
“Being the last car on the road was really tricky, it was a big mess out there. Now the goal is a bit different and we will just try to finish with some good points,” he added.