Hyundai’s world championship leader Thierry Neuville edged out Toyota’s Elfyn Evans in a thrilling fight for the lead as the penultimate stage of the Croatia Rally ended with the top three drivers separated by 11.6 seconds on Saturday.

The Belgian finished 4.9 seconds ahead of Evans to take a provisional 18 points in the championship battle, while the Welshman earned 15 points after an eight-stage battle where the gap between the two never exceeded five seconds.

Eight-time world champion and part-time Toyota driver Sebastien Ogier completed the top three 11.6 seconds off the top spot, with the Frenchman earning 13 points going into the Zagreb-based rally’s final round on Sunday.

“It’s not a big lead, but we had a great day. Despite a not-perfect tyre choice this afternoon we were capable of defending our lead,” said Neuville.

“We need to continue attacking and have a good tyre choice on Sunday. It wasn’t easy when the weather wasn’t very easy to judge.”

Estonian Ott Tanak was fourth, a minute and 15.5 seconds further back to claim 10 points ahead of Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux’s Ford Puma in fifth.

Sunday’s four-stage finale completes the 54.78 km in the Croatian capital with 12 championship points still up for grabs.

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