Tanak took the lead on the first stage of the day, winning three of the eight stages completed on Friday to hold an 8.3 second lead, which was reduced to 3.8 seconds after Lappi closed the day with three wins consecutive steps.
Toyota’s Elfyn Evans struggled to match the top two throughout the fast gravel stages but reached service 19.3 seconds behind but ahead of rally favorite and championship leader Kalle Rovanpera. The Finn handled the open roads well in his home event to finish fourth on Friday, albeit 21.0 seconds behind Tanak.
Craig Breen led M-Sport Ford’s charge into fifth ahead of Takamoto Katsuta in sixth.
The morning sun was replaced by cloudy conditions with patches of dampness in the air, but the change in weather failed to dampen the afternoon battle between Tanak and Lappi up front .
Tanak admitted he was taking risks in Stage 7, but they paid off as the Estonian took his third stage victory of the event. It took 2.1 seconds from Lappi, who was second fastest in the test and raved about his rival.
“It’s not a battle. I lose all the time! Ott does a good job,” Lappi said.
Evans continued to struggle to find the sweet spot in his GR Yaris, dropping 2.0s to Rovanpera in the battle for third place after drama hit Breen, who started the afternoon loop being fourth.
Breen hit a rock during the stage with the right corner of his Puma, which cost him 10.1 seconds and dropped the Irishman to fifth overall.
Meanwhile, Rovanpera pushed hard in the stage, revealing he “didn’t have anything left in there”, but his time was 2.2 seconds behind leader Tanak.
Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
Photo by: Toyota Racing
Lappi responded to Tanak’s challenge on Stage 8 as the Finn managed to eclipse a stunning reference displayed by the rally leader.
For the first time in the rally, Tanak said he felt comfortable behind the wheel and set a time that left many drivers stunned. However, that was not enough to disprove Lappi, who finished the trial 2.1s quicker to reduce Tanak’s lead to 6.2s.
Rovanpera stayed in the thick of the fight posting the third fastest time, which left him just a second behind Evans in the battle for third place overall.
Breen was still feeling the effects of the impact on the previous stage and was forced to deal with an injured Puma. The Irishman was not the only M-Sport to struggle with a problem as rookie Jari Huttunen suddenly lost power during the stage.
The Finn, who started the stage eighth, was able to restart the car before stopping again and was left to reach the end of the stage with significantly reduced power with a fuel pressure problem, which s is continued on the next trial.
Up front, Lappi continued to turn the screw on Tanak after winning Stage 9 to cut the lead to 5.3 seconds as the latter felt his i20 N was starting to feel sluggish.
The battle for third place overall remained intense as fourth-placed Rovanpera managed to take another 0.5 seconds from Evans, who felt much stronger on the penultimate stage of the day.
Breen finished fifth fastest on the stage, and despite the power of the tricky stage, he still had time to greet some of his supporters.
Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1
Picture by: M-Sport
The final stage of the day saw Lappi turn up the heat again as he edged Tanak by 0.9 seconds to close less than 3.8 seconds off the rally lead.
Evans managed to open the gap on Rovanpera for third place after the latter survived a wild moment. Rovanpera managed to pull the car away from what could have been a massive impact with the trees after running wide into a left-hander.
Rally Finland continues on Saturday with 150 km of competitive stages awaiting the crews.
WRC Rally Finland – Classification after stage 10 (top 10)