Estonia's Ott Tänak (Hyundai) is in third place going into the final day of this year's Rally New Zealand. Finland's Kalle Rovenperä (Toyota), who also leads the way in the World Championship, is out in front, with Sebastien Ogier (Toyota) in second.
Ireland's Craig Breen (M-Sport Ford) was fastest in the first stage on Saturday, finishing 4.1 seconds quicker than Rovanperä. Tänak (+8.1), whose overnight lead of 0.2 seconds had been wiped out with a five second penalty incurred for exceeding the maximum hybrid boost permitted under the WRC rules, was third, leaving the Estonian 2.9 seconds behind leader Elfyn Evans (Great Britain, Toyota) in the overall standings.
The second special stage of the day caused problems for Evans, who despite making it to the finish, decided to retire following the maintenance break due to the damage sustained to both the front and rear of his vehicle. Rovanperä won the stage to become the overall leader. Tänak finished fourth (+7.8), staying second overall (+4.6). Sebastien Ogier gained the most from Evans' exit, moving up to third (+6.5).
The tenth quick lap before the break had to be abandoned after an accident involving Britain's Gus Greensmith (M-Sport). Fortunately, both Greensmith and co-driver Jonas Andersson escaped unhurt. Rovanperä, Ogier and Tänak,, who were due to start after Greensmith, were given nominal times, meaning birthday boy Rovanperä went into the maintenance break as the leader.
After the maintenance break, Rovanperä took a big step towards winning both Rally New Zealand and the World Championship title. The Finn was helped first of all by 10-second time penalties handed to Tänak and his Hyundai team-mates Thierry Neuville and Oliver Solberg, for another hybrid boost infringement. Rovanperä won the stage by five seconds from Ogier. The victory was made even sweeter for the Finn, with championship rival Tänak finishing back in sixth (+17.5).
The Finn continued to show his class in the penultimate stage, stage of the day, finishing 6.6 seconds quicker than Ogier and 7.8 seconds ahead of Tänak. Ogier was subsequently given a 10-second time penalty, while Japan's Takamoto Katsuta (Toyota), fifth overall, went off the track and was forced to retire for the day.
The final stage of Saturday's rally was won by Breen, with Rovanperä settling for second (+2.9). Belgian Thierry Neuville came third (+3.6), with Tänak again only managing sixth place (+9.0). With four stages to go, Rovanperä leads Rally New Zealand by 29 seconds from Ogier. Tänak is in third, 46.6 seconds behind the leader. Rovenperä's first WRC title will also be confirmed on Sunday, provided the 22-year-old Fin picks up eight points more than Tänak for the weekend.
The final day of the race starts at just after 12:30 a.m. Estonian time on Sunday.
The overall standings going into the final day of Rally New Zealand are as follows:
1. Rovanperä (Finland, Toyota) (2:28.26,3)
2. Ogier (France, Toyota) (+29.0)
3. Tänak (Estonia, Hyundai) (+46,4)
4. Neuville (Belgium, Hyundai) (+1.41,4)
5. Solberg (Sweden, Hyundai) (+3.34,9)
6. Bertelli (Italy, M-Sport Ford) (+9.18,3)
7. Breen (Ireland, M-Sport Ford) (+38.00,2)
Tänak is 54 points behind Rovanperä in the championship with three races, including New Zealand, to go.
Editor: Michael Cole