The leaderboard of this fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship was turned upside down in the opening dusty and rock-strewn Çetibeli speed test as driver after driver dropped time with punctures.
Overnight leader Thierry Neuville, second-placed Sébastien Loeb and third-placed Sébastien Ogier all haemorrhaged time with tyre troubles. Kalle Rovanperä and Esapekka Lappi were similarly affected as only Evans emerged unscathed from the top seven cars.
The Welshman was fastest by 31.6sec in his Toyota Yaris to soar into top spot after starting the morning in fourth. What was an overnight 1-2 for Hyundai Motorsport, turned into delight for Toyota Gazoo Racing as team-mate Ogier regained second, despite losing almost 1min 15sec as he stopped to change a tyre.
Team-mate Loeb was on course to grab the lead until he limped into the finish with the front tyre destroyed, dropping 1min 20sec. “I don’t know where. I was driving carefully in the middle of the road. No risks, no cuts and then suddenly a puncture,” said the Frenchman.
Rovanperä was unable to capitalise as he dropped almost two minutes in his Yaris while Lappi yielded almost 2min 15sec in his Ford Fiesta.
When everything had calmed down, Evans held a 46.9sec lead over Ogier, with Neuville hot his heels 0.8sec behind. Loeb, too, was embroiled in a three-way fight for second, just 4.7sec further back. Rovanperä, Gus Greensmith and Lappi were next up.
The drama continued further down the field. Teemu Suninen retired his Fiesta with broken rear left suspension, Pierre-Louis Loubet went out with mechanical problems and even the returning Ott Tänak was not immune.
The Estonian was second fastest but only after intercom problems meant he could not hear the pace notes fed into his helmet by co-driver Martin Järveoja.
Just the 6.22km Marmaris test remained before service. Neuville was immediately back to top speed, fastest by 4.5sec from Loeb. It promoted him back into second overall, 42.2sec behind Evans and 4.0sec clear of Ogier. Loeb was 5.2sec behind in fourth.
Evans had time for a brief stall at a hairpin and was fifth fastest.
A 40-minute service allowed time for respite, talks about what tyre compound to select and how many spare wheels to carry on board before the road leads back to Çetibeli to repeat the stage. After the first pass, the roads will only be even rougher……