Rallying-Ogier leads three-way challenge in Croatia

FILE PHOTO: FIA World Rally Championship - Rally Sweden - Stage 7 of Second Round - Torsby, Sweden - February 15, 2020. Sebastien Ogier of France (Toyota Yaris WRC) speaks to the media. TT News Agency/Micke Fransson/via REUTERS

(Reuters) - Toyota's reigning world champion Sebastien Ogier took the lead in the Croatian Rally on Saturday, with only 10.4 seconds separating first from third going into the final leg.

The Frenchman, a seven-times world champion, led Welsh team mate Elfyn Evans by 6.9 seconds with Hyundai's overnight leader Thierry Neuville dropping to the final podium slot.

Belgian Neuville struggled in the morning loop of stages, after leaving the Zagreb service park with what turned out to be the wrong tyre choice, but came back strongly in the afternoon with a change of tyres.

Neuville also stalled in the day's second stage and then suffered brake problems while Ogier won two of the four morning stages.

A right rear puncture in the afternoon then cost Ogier time after lunch, with Neuville winning two stages.

"I think we had a really good result today," said Ogier. "Without the tyre issues, the gap would be a little bit more comfortable."

Sunday features four more asphalt stages, with the Power stage offering bonus points. Croatia is making its debut on the calendar as the third round of the season.

"The pressure is on, everybody is pushing hard and that will continue to be the case on the final day," said Neuville. "If I want to win, I need to do a little bit more."

Estonian team mate Ott Tanak was fourth but 37.8 seconds behind Ogier.

Championship leader Kalle Rovanpera crashed out on Friday with the Toyota too badly damaged to continue.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Christian Radnedge)

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