Ogier leads but Katsuta celebrates in Croatia Rally

Zagreb (AFP) –


Frenchman Sebastien Ogier took a slender lead in the Croatia Rally on Saturday, winning three of the day's eight stages as challengers Elfyn Evans, Thierry Neuville as well as Takamoto Katsuta also powered to wins.

Seven-time world champion Ogier suffered a puncture in the 13th stage but still leads Toyota team-mate Evans by 6.9 seconds going into the last four stages on Sunday.

"It was a good day, except for a puncture and it's going to be a nice Sunday!" said Ogier.

Neuville is just over 10 seconds behind Ogier while Ott Tanak in fourth, also in a Hyundai, is a further 27 seconds back.

The Belgian, however, was underwhelmed by the choice of tyres which caused him severe problems in the morning as he lost his 7.7 second overnight lead.

"We, and I especially as the team manager, made a big mistake," said Hyyundai team principal Andrea Adamo, at the end of the morning.

"We have to be professional if we want to be world champions.

"When we needed to make tyre choices, we managed to do the wrong thing."

No such tyre problems hit Ogier as he won the first and last stages of the morning session.

"I was quite confident our choice was the best one but we are still learning with this tyre," he said after the early racing.

He had to wait until the last stage of the day, however, for another win as the Belgian Neuville found his pace

"With the right tyres it was a lot better," said Neuville.

And it was a day of mini-triumph also for Japanese driver Katsuta who jumped in with his second stage win of the day in his Toyota.

It made for a special day for the 28-year-old who had only ever won one previous stage in WRC.

"I had a good feeling and I changed my driving style a little bit and it looks like it worked well," said the 28-year-old.

Katsuta, however, remains well behind the leaders in seventh.

Estonian Tanak failed to land a stage win and was disappointed with his performance during the morning in particular.

"It was so-so," Tanak said. "Not really on the pace but that's how it is."

In this third of 12 events Ogier, Neuville and Evans are fighting to take the championship lead from Finland's Kalle Rovanpera who went out in his Toyota with a spectacular crash on Friday.

The 20-year-old's Toyota hurtled off a narrow tarmac road and down a steep forest embankment into dense undergrowth after losing control on a right-hand corner.

Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen freed themselves unhurt but were unable to continue due the state of the car.

Four stages remain to be contested on Sunday in the first World Rally Championship visit to Croatia.

The Arctic Rally on snow at the end of February was won by Tanak, while Ogier won the season-opener in Monte Carlo.