Ott Tänak retained his stranglehold on Arctic Rally Finland Powered by CapitalBox by winning two of Saturday morning’s three speed tests to stretch his overnight lead. In perfect winter conditions, the Estonian won the opening 24.43km Mustalampi and the closing 27.68km Siikakämä in his Hyundai i20. He arrived at mid-leg service in Rovaniemi with a 23.6sec advantage in this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Only a brush with a snowbank in the 19.91km Kaihuavaara prevented a hat-trick, allowing Elfyn Evans to stop a Tänak clean sweep by claiming fastest time in his Toyota Yaris.

“In the end a good morning but very, very demanding. The stages are incredibly fast and at that speed, having never seen the roads, the pace notes are never 100 per cent. It’s been some interesting meetings with some snowbanks….” said Tanak, whose i20 carried several spoils of battle.

Craig Breen, lying second overnight, fended off Kalle Rovanperä in Mustalampi but the Irishman could not repel the young Finn any longer. Rovanperä moved ahead in the next test and the Yaris man held a 5.3sec advantage over Breen’s i20.

Rovanperä swiped a snowbank on a quick right corner in Siikakämä but, despite overnight changes, the 20-year-old remained frustrated with the balance of his Yaris.

“There are so many seconds I should be able to take away. I don’t have the feeling with the car and it’s not doing what I want so in many places I lose the car and the line. On the fast stages we are fast, but when it’s technical we need to find some speed,” he explained.

Breen survived a few encounters with snowbanks in the opener and felt his pace notes were slightly below par on the next two tests.

Kalle Rovanperä overhauled Craig Breen for second

Team-mate Thierry Neuville was 5.8sec back in fourth. The Belgian struggled to hear co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe’s pace notes above his i20’s engine noise. “I have to back off and imagine what the corner will be. A little bit frustrated about that,” he said.

Evans was fifth, the Welshman feeling he was too slow in places and too quick in others. He headed a fascinating three-car scrap between Oliver Solberg, Takamoto Katsuta and championship leader Sébastien Ogier.

Teenager Solberg was up from eighth to sixth in his i20, holding a 1.1sec margin over the Japanese driver after a stunning third fastest time in Mustalampi on only his fourth WRC stage in a World Rally Car. Katsuta had 1.8sec in hand over team-mate Ogier.

Teemu Suninen was distanced by the battling trio, the Finn slipping from sixth to ninth in his Ford Fiesta, with team-mate Gus Greensmith rounding off the top 10.

Lorenzo Bertelli was an early casualty, the Italian diving deep into a Mustalampi snowbank from which he was unable to emerge.