Written by Timothy Neal

On his 22nd birthday, Kale Rovanpera stormed into the lead at the penultimate round of Rally New Zealand, effectively single-handedly winning the championship when Ot Tanak ran with a time penalty.

The young Finn heads into Sunday with a +29.0 advantage over France’s Sebastien Ogier after Ot Tanak was found to be over the power limit yesterday and given a 15 second time penalty to leave him 46 behind his title rival .4 seconds.

Rovanpera could clinch this year’s title and become the youngest winner in history if he wins, and leads the Estonian Hyundai i20 driver by more than seven points.

Toyota Gazoo driver Elphin Evans had a great start to the day before suffering too much roll cage damage to continue. Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

If the positions remain the same as tomorrow’s Wolf Power Stage, double the points on offer will be enough to see the Toyota Gazoo star take the title early.

“It was a great day,” commented Ravanpera, “I can be very pleased with what we did in these extremely difficult conditions.” We pushed really hard and I’m happy.”

For Elphin Evans, his Rally New Zealand came to an end after a crash that saw him lose most of the front of the car as well as the boot. It was later discovered that the roll cage was damaged after it rolled onto the right bank in the wet.

It was a disappointing run for Evans, after starting the day in second place, and he briefly held the lead over Tanak after the eighth stage of the morning.

Sébastien Ogier is 2nd after Tanak’s penalty times and is +29s behind Ravanper heading into Sunday’s final stages. Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

Gus Greensmith also lost control of his M-Sport Ford Puma, making for a tough few days for the team after Craig Breen slid off the road yesterday.

Greensmith’s car rolled heavily, overturning several times after hitting the wet grass on the side of the road. Both he and his co-driver were reportedly uninjured.

All in all, there were plenty of time penalties throughout the day, with Thierry Neuville also breaking the hybrid power rules and Ravanpera also receiving a penalty, along with Tanak from yesterday.

Otto Tanaka’s brave title challenge could have been dealt a major blow after he was handed a 15-second penalty. Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon couldn’t have hoped for a better day either, as his second straight day at the top ended with the WRC2 driver finishing sixth overall.

Sunday’s final includes a new stage at Whitford Forest Te Maraunga Waiho (8.82km) and the purpose-built Jack’s Ridge course (6.77km). Both are run twice, with the second run of Jack’s Ridge forming the Wolf Power Stage bonus points.

Tomorrow’s action can be seen live on Stan Sport.

Leading positions after Saturday

1. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota GR Yaris 2 hours 28 minutes 26.3 seconds

2. S Ogier / B Veillas FRA Toyota GR Yaris +29.0 sec

3. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Hyundai i20 N +46.4 sec

4. T Neuville / M Wydaeghe BEL Hyundai i20 N +1 min 41.4 sec

5. O Solberg / E Edmondson SWE Hyundai i20 N +3 minutes 34.9 seconds

6. H Paddon / J Kennard NZL Hyundai i20 N Rally2 +8 min 51.0 sec

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