The Finn will commence battle early on Sunday morning, with four stages – including the points-paying Power Stage – needing to be traversed if he is to make it a fourth career victory in the World Rally Championship.

Judging by his Saturday performance, a clearly rejuvenated Ott Tanak is unlikely to make life easy for Rovanpera despite the Estonian having to nurse a gear selection problem mid-way through today’s afternoon loop.

Day two’s action was barely a few cars old when the first stage was cancelled following a high-speed accident involving the Hyundai Motorsport duo of Oliver Solberg and Elliott Edmondson. The Swedish driver lost the rear of his I20 N Rally1 car and ended up travelling down the road facing the opposite direction.

Both Solberg and Edmondson, who started the day in fifth, were uninjured, although the car sustained superficial damage as a result of a fire that was started by the exhaust pipe touching the grass bank and not, as the team confirmed, the e-hybrid unit stored in the Korean supermini’s boot.

Initially, the stage was halted by organisers before they decided to cancel it entirely on safety grounds. Prior to this, only a handful of drivers completed the test, including Toyota’s Elfyn Evans, M-Sport Ford’s Gus Greensmith, and Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville who started the day down in fourth after he was hit with a one-minute penalty – and a 1,900 Euro fine – by stewards on Friday evening after he was deemed to have driven at “excessive speed” after SS4.

Neuville explained in the stewards’ room that he wanted to make up the time he had lost due to “technical problems” on the road section, chiefly a faulty alternator that made it difficult to start the engine. The key beneficiary of the ruling was M-Sport Ford’s Craig Breen who swapped places with the Belgian.

Rovanpera remained in control of the rally at the end of SS10 – ‘Jaskovo – Mali Modrus Potok’ – and erred on the side of caution by opting for full wets. Tanak had the same idea, insisting it was the “safer choice”, while the crossed wet/slick tyre combination deployed by Neuville failed to bear fruit.

Then on SS11, the race for victory at Rally Croatia was blown wide open when Rovanpera punctured. He had no choice but to tip-toe through the test, the flat front-left tyre costing him 50 seconds to Tanak who went quickest by a staggering 18.6 seconds to reduce the deficit to 18.2 seconds.

What made the time through ‘Platak’ even more impressive was the fact visibility for drivers in some parts stretched no further than the end of their car’s bonnet due to the presence of thick fog high up in the hills close to Zagreb city.

Tanak trimmed Rovanpera’s lead further still on the final morning stage before cars returned to service, gaining another 1.4 seconds to leave the gap reading 16.8 seconds. Breen lost touch with Tanak in the stage when he misjudged his braking point and lost the best part of 10 seconds to a spin – an error that handed Neuville renewed hope of hauling in the Irishman and reclaiming the final podium spot.

Solberg’s earlier exit promoted the Toyota Yaris GR Rally1 cars of Evans and Takamoto Katsuta up to fifth and sixth respectively despite both still struggling for confidence in the changeable conditions.

After service, Rovanpera immediately dropped more time to Tanak to the sum of 3.8 seconds as he adopted a risk averse approach to proceedings. It was on the first of the repeated stages after lunch that Tanak’s I20 N Rally1 car developed gearbox gremlins, while Neuville reported on-off engine woes.

A scratch time on SS14 – the day’s new penultimate stage after organisers decided to cancel SS15 on safety grounds – allowed Rovanpera to prop up his slender margin by 1.8 seconds and take it to 14.8 seconds. He cleaned the final stage by three tenths of a second, but more importantly 1.7 seconds up on Tanak, to put almost 20 seconds of daylight between them.

Behind the battling Breen and Neuville in third and fourth is Elfyn Evans who has made a strong finish, including maximum points on Sunday's end-of-rally Power Stage, the objective. That would be a satisfactory return on what has been a character building weekend so far.

"It's been okay. It was a pretty good morning, but the afternoon was more difficult in places," said the Welshman. "I was on the careful side where it got extremely muddy, but at least we can see the time. We just need to secure the points really."