Tanak will go into Sunday’s final four stages with an 8.2s advantage over Evans after Neuville crashed out of the day’s penultimate stage after a long time.
Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi managed to overcome Saturday’s difficult tarmac stages to finish third after Neuville’s demise, but the Finn is around 1min 09.8sec behind the two leaders.
Hyundai’s Oliver Solberg is closing in on a career-best WRC finish in fourth, ahead of M-Sport’s Adrien Furmeaux, who led the Ford team after Craig Breen retired from the rally following a heavy morning crash.
Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta completed the top six, but the Japanese driver dropped back by 5m39.3s after a gearbox problem on Friday and an intermittent problem with the hybrid today.
The afternoon loop began with Neuville continuing to assert his rally credentials as the local won stage eight of the event, extending his lead over Tanak to 18.3s.
Evans managed to close the gap between him and second-placed Tanak, who confirmed that the transmission problem that had cost him valuable time during the morning loop had been rectified during mid-day service.
Lappi had a wild moment on stage 13 when he hit a ditch, but somehow the Finn was able to get his GR Yaris back on the road.
Evans won the next test, Stage 14, by 0.5s ahead of Tanaka, while Neuville dropped 2.7s after taking a cautious approach, given his first run through the stage was at road speed following Breen’s crash on the morning loop.
“Obviously it was like a first pass for me, so I was discovering the stage,” Neuville said. “I felt like I was a little bit cautious, but our gravel team told us it was very dirty.”
At the back, Katsuto lost hybrid power in his GR Yaris, which cost him time as Gus Greensmith decided to pull back to ensure he got his Puma to the end of the stage after making a mistake on the first pass hours earlier.
The rally turned upside down in the penultimate stage when leader Neuville, who had a 17.2s advantage over Tanak, crashed out. The Belgian made a sharp left-hand turn and rolled into a deep ditch, leaving the car stranded for a moment.
Onlookers rushed to the scene and were able to push the car out of the ditch, but the i20 N sustained significant damage to its right front.
A visibly angry Neuville and co-driver Martijn Wydege managed to set off again, albeit with the driver’s door open, before eventually pulling into the driveway.
Neuville’s exit handed Tanak the rally lead over Evans, which the Estonian extended after winning stage 15 by 3.1s over the Toyota driver.
Solberg moved ahead of Furmo in the battle for fourth after the latter received a 20-second penalty for two minutes late to the start of the stage. The driver of “M-Sport” was briefly stopped by the police on a section of the road.
“There were a lot of people on the stretch of road, so we tried to let people through, but the police stopped us,” said Furmo. – We need to see if we can do something, but yes, we are two minutes late. ”
Tanak, now holding a slim lead over Evans, took the final stage of the day to set the fastest time, 0.9s faster than Kale Rovanpera, who returned to action after retiring on Friday.
Tanak was 1.9s quicker than Evans to extend his overall lead over the Welshman heading into Sunday’s final four stages.
In WRC2, former Citroen WRC factory driver Stéphane Lefebvre finished the day seventh overall and led the top class of support from Andreas Mikkelsen by 21.4s.
Outside the WRC subsidiary classes, former F1 driver Jos Verstappen retired from the rally after going off the road during Stage 13. The Dutchman led the Masters Cup class on his WRC debut.