Rally New Zealand has its fifth different leader after Elfyn Evans crashed his Toyota into an embankment on a bruising start to day three of the event.
Evans and Gus Greensmith were victims of slippery conditions in Special Stage 9 and Special Stage 10 respectively, each crashing heavily.
A spin for Evans tore the front bumper, rear hatch and wing from his car while Greensmith suffered an enormous rollover on the subsequent stage.
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Such was the scale of Greensmith’s crash that the stage was stopped as his Ford Puma lay stricken across the road.
Greensmith and his co-driver Jonas Andersson escaped uninjured, though the same couldn’t be said of their car.
It’s the second straight blow for the Ford team, who on day two had Craig Breen slide out of contention on Friday having looked likely to retake the lead of the rally.
“It looks like huge damage, which just goes to show the margins we’re on,” said Ford team principal Richard Millener.
“Personally, from what I’ve seen, he comes into that left-hander – it’s harder to see from [the outside] – but from the in-car, he cuts in too early to the corner, carries too much speed, and understeers off into the bank and then had a massive roll.”
While glad to see his two drivers were unharmed, Millener expressed his concern for the state of the car as Rally Catalunya in Spain looms in a little over two weeks’ time.
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“I have no idea what the car is like, but that could be a tough one for Spain,” he said.
“In terms of the impact, it’s nothing major at all, just the damage as you can see is fairly severe. That’s going to be a challenge.”
Even before Saturday’s action got underway there was drama as three drivers copped overnight penalties for technical infringements.
That included former rally leader Ott Tanak, who had five seconds added to his time for exceeding the maximum hybrid boost allowed on Special Stage 1 (SS1) of the event.
Hyundai teammate Thierry Neuville was also pinged for the same offence, as was championship leader Kalle Rovanpera of Toyota.
As a result of Tanak’s penalty, Evans was promoted to the lead of the rally which by the end of SS8 was out to 2.9 seconds.
However, the tide quickly turned the other way when Evans over-rotated his car and nose-dived an embankment on SS9.
Rally New Zealand leader bombs out of top spot
The resulting contact whipped the car around, tearing the front bumper and rear hatch from his Toyota Yaris.
Evans sped to the finish line, but the damage was done – not only to his car, but his stage time as well.
A 2.9-second advantage soon switched to a 30.4-second deficit to new rally leader Rovanpera, who surged to the lead with a SS9 win.
Tanak, meanwhile, maintained second place just 4.6 seconds adrift of the lead while Sebastien Ogier rose to third, 6.5 seconds in sight of top spot.
Following SS9, Evans and his co-driver Scott Martin pulled over to the side of the road to fix what damage they could to the power unit.
Martin desperately plugged holes with epoxy putty while Evans filled up his CamelBak with water from nearby puddles to replenish the engine’s cooling system.
Evans and Martin were fortunate not to lose more time on SS10, which was cancelled after Greensmith’s crash.
In the second-tier WRC2 division, hometown hero Hayden Paddon still leads Poland’s Kajetan Kajetanowicz to the tune of 1:38.0s.
Supercars star Shane van Gisbergen still holds third and is a further 32.8 seconds behind Kajetanowicz.
A repeat loop of the morning’s stages will get underway on Saturday afternoon. Stan Sport will carry SS11 live and ad-free from 11am.
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