The Welshman relegated Toyota Gazoo team-mate Sébastien Ogier with a gutsy charge through the second 20.73km La Bréole – Selonnet speed test. He returned to mid-leg service in Gap with a 4.8sec advantage in his Yaris.
The second half of the stage was shaded and covered in ice, but Evans excelled to stop the clocks 7.6sec quicker than his second-fastest team-mate to regain the lead he yielded to Ogier yesterday afternoon.
“I felt I was able to be smooth and carry good speed in most places. I tried not to destroy the studs in the first part. It was difficult because the sun is out and conditions have improved since the gravel crew went through,” said Evans.
Ogier had stretched his overnight lead in the opening St Leger les Mélèzes – La-Bâtie Neuve stage and the Frenchman appeared unperturbed at losing it with a repeat run through the stages to follow this afternoon – when he is notoriously strong.
“I’m happy to make it through because they were very tricky conditions and I struggled with the information I had from my gravel crew. The roads are hard to read,” Ogier explained.
Thierry Neuville couldn’t match the flying Toyotas. Despite winning the opener, the Hyundai i20 driver was 13.8sec adrift of Evans in the next and arrived at service 16.6sec off the lead. “I thought I had a good stage but when I saw the times maybe it’s not good enough,” he said.
Sébastien Loeb was fourth, almost 1min 40sec adrift, and lucky to be there after swiping a bank in the opener. Esapekka Lappi was fifth in a Ford Fiesta, and another to lament the way the conditions had changed since the passage of his safety note crew two hours before.
Lappi reduced the deficit to Loeb to 35.2sec, while Kalle Rovanperä completed the top six in another Yaris, the young Finn reaping the benefits of a less aggressive approach in the second stage.
WRC 3 leader Eric Camilli climbed to seventh in a Citroën C3 after Takamoto Katsuta spun his Yaris into the snow. Co-driver Dan Barritt had to scoop snow out of the Yaris’ grille and almost three minutes ticked by before he restarted.
Nicolas Ciamin and WRC 2 leader Mads Østberg completed the leaderboard.