Ott Tänak's rather flat start to Rally Turkey on Thursday continued through Friday, with the Estonian lying in 8th place after the end of six gravel-based stages.
Rough surfaces, rocks and rain were some of the perils facing the field as they negotiated stages in Marmaris, on the Turkish Riviera, and Tänak was one of those to succumb to a puncture.
Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja in the Toyota Yaris trail the surprise overnight leader, Esapekka Lappi (Finland, Citroën).
Tänak was the first up on Friday's opening stage, a 24.8-km stretch at Içmeler, and while he ran faster than both of his title challengers, Sébastien Ogier (France, Citroën) and Thierry Neuville (Belgium, Hyundai).
A return to the same route on the Saturday afternoon saw loose gravel cleared from the track leaving more resilient and angular rocks and stones, on which Neuvill and Ogier closed the gap on the Estonian.
Overall, at the end of Thursday and Friday's stages, Tänak lies in 8th place at the race he won last year, behing Lappi, Ogier, Neuville, Teemu Suninen (Finland, Ford Fiesta), Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway, Hyundai), Dani Sordo (Spain, Hyundai) and Tänak's teammate Chris Meeke (Northern Ireland).
A thunderstorm was forecast for around 16.00hrs, as action resumed with the re-run of Içmeler. Loose gravel had been cleared from the racing line leaving protruding abrasive stones and loose rocks on the surface. Tänak beat his morning's run by 6.3 seconds but Neuville closed to within two seconds of the Estonian in the rankings and Ogier pulled a further 6.3 ahead.
Saturday's stages include an upgraded Kilzan stage, one of three stages which will be run two times, once before lunch and once after.
Tänak leads the WRC driver's table on 205 points with four races to go (including Turkey). Only Neuville (172 points) and Neuville (165 points) can catch him.
Editor: Andrew Whyte