Hyundai's Ott Tanak took the fourth round of the 2020 World Rally Championship in Estonia by the scruff of the neck and leads after Saturday's 10 stages.
The reigning world champion survived a day in which many fancied runners found their progress stymied by tyre wear and punctures on the fast, flowing gravel stages.
As the rally began early on Saturday morning, overnight leader Esapekka Lappi's Ford Fiesta WRC was quickly engulfed. The opening 21km stage was won by Toyota's rookie sensation Kalle Rovanpera who moved to the top of the order while Lappi tumbled to seventh.
Rovanpera then hit trouble on the next stage when a right-rear puncture took a slice out of his bodywork, knocking off several of the car's all-important aerodynamic panels. This incident dropped him to eighth and handed the advantage to the Hyundai men led by Tanak.
In front of a hugely passionate home crowd, Tanak delivered a scintillating performance to take the overall lead. By the end of the third stage of the day it was a Hyundai 1-2-3, with Craig Breen secure in second place and Thierry Neuville climbing to third.
Behind the Hyundais, the four Toyota Yaris WRCs sat in line astern with Sebastien Ogier claiming a win on SS5 to keep ahead of Elfyn Evans, an impressive Takamoto Katsuta and young Rovanpera as he fought to regain lost ground.
The starting order was switched during the lunchtime service, giving points leader Ogier a break from sweeping the stages. Although the Frenchman was immediately able to add a stage win on SS7, Toyota's challenge was blunted when both he and Evans were delayed by tyre problems through the afternoon.
Rally leader Tanak remained in imperious form and a superb performance from Breen allowed him to take wins on both SS9 and SS10, closing up on Tanak and putting a disheartening gap to the pursuing Toyotas.
Disaster struck the third Hyundai of Neuville, however. The Belgian began to close on Breen but slid wide on SS7, knocking the right-rear corner off his i20 WRC and forcing him to retire. A second retirement in a row for the winner of the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally means his chances in the drivers' championship of a truncated 2020 season have taken a potentially terminal blow.
Tanak holds a commanding position going into the final day, with part-time team-mate Breen performing a superb job of riding shotgun.
"I've been pushing [on a] couple of stages, you know, just to make some gap but this afternoon, especially the middle stages, got really rough so I know I can't risk anything," Tanak said after the final stage of the day.
"I need to definitely come through it if I want to win - or to fight - for the championship."
The WRC2 battle became a wild game of snakes and ladders early in the day as overnight leader Mads Ostberg lost half a minute to a puncture in his Citroen C3.
The Hyundai juniors also hit trouble as Ole Christian Veiby went out after damaging his engine on one of the jumps, while Nikolai Gryazin was delayed by several wild moments.
With the Skoda of Swedish privateer Pontus Tidemand picking its way carefully through the stages to avoid costly damage, the WRC2 leader's baton was briefly passed to the Ford Fiesta of Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux.
Once the front-runners were back up to speed, however, Ostberg thundered back to the lead and held a 38-second advantage over Gryazin at the end of the day.
Right behind Ostberg in the overall standings at the overnight halt lies Oliver Solberg's VW Polo at the front of the WRC3 class, who holds an 18-second advantage over local man Egon Kaur's Skoda while in the Junior WRC Latvia's Martins Sesks leads Sami Pajari.
Rally Estonia leaderboard after SS11
|1||RC1||Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja||Hyundai||1h15m08.4s|
|2||RC1||Craig Breen, P.Nagle||Hyundai||11.7s|
|3||RC1||Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia||Toyota||28.7s|
|4||RC1||Kalle Rovanpera, J.Halttunen||Toyota||34.9s|
|5||RC1||Elfyn Evans, S.Martin||Toyota||36.8s|
|6||RC1||Takamoto Katsuta, D.Barritt||Toyota||1m01.9s|
|7||RC1||Esapekka Lappi, J.Ferm||Ford||1m41.7s|
|8||RC1||Teemu Suninen, J.Lehtinen||Ford||1m50.9s|
|9||RC1||Pierre-Louis Loubet, V.Landais||Hyundai||2m15.2s|
|10||RC1||Gus Greensmith, E.Edmondson||Ford||3m03.1s|
|11||RC2||Oliver Solberg, A.Johnston||Volkswagen||5m02.9s|
|12||RC2||Mads Ostberg, T.Eriksen||Citroen||5m26.4s|
|13||RC2||Kajetan Kajetanowicz, M.Szczepaniak||Skoda||5m31.8s|
|14||RC2||Jari Huttunen, M.Lukka||Hyundai||5m46.4s|
|15||RC2||Nikolay Gryazin, K.Aleksandrov||Hyundai||6m04.2s|
|16||RC2||Adrien Fourmaux, R.Jamoul||Ford||6m11.9s|
|17||RC2||Marco Bulacia Wilkinson, M.Der Ohannesian||Citroen||6m23.6s|
|18||RC2||Pontus Tidemand, P.Barth||Skoda||6m24.8s|
|19||RC2||Eyvind Brynildsen, I.Minor||Skoda||6m54.9s|
|20||RC2||Nicolas Ciamin, Y.Roche||Citroen||7m05.3s|
|21||RC2||Yohan Rossel, B.Fulcrand||Citroen||7m51.6s|