Adrien Fourmaux crashed on Monte Lerno, the final stage of Rally Italy’s Saturday itinerary, blocking the stage and triggering a red flag.
A battle had emerged between Fourmaux and Kalle Rovanperä for fifth place, with the championship leader cutting the gap down to under 10s heading into Monte Lerno.
On a fast section Fourmaux ran wide exiting a left-hander, the right-hand edge of his Ford Puma clipping some small trees that sent his car further into the foliage, spinning him around and leaving him stuck.
Though there was some damage to the front end of Fourmaux’s Puma, it was ultimately being beached on the edge of the road that left him unable to continue.
His car was partially blocking the road, with Dani Sordo having to pull up and stop behind the stranded Puma, the road barely wide enough for the Hyundai driver to pass through.
Rovanperä had already completed the stage and will inherit fifth place, with Takamoto Katsuta also safely through and up to sixth overall.
The stage was later resumed but one marshal appeared not to receive the message, as a literal red flag was waved in front of Craig Breen after the stage had been resumed and Fourmaux’s car cleared out of the way.
Though Breen set a stage time over a minute off the pace because of the mix-up, he was awarded a notional time identical to Rovanperä’s benchmark time by the stewards. Sordo also received the same time, being the only driver caught up directly behind Fourmaux’s stopped Puma.
Even rally leader Ott Tänak could not escape the mixup, as he too was shown a red flag – this time being alerted to it by his team via message instead of spotting the marshal directly – and slowed, despite Pierre-Louis Loubet ahead completing the stage at full speed.
“I got a red flag message and it’s a proper mess in the stage, no idea what is happening,” said Tänak.
Tänak also received an identical nominal time to Breen and Sordo, securing the 46s lead he’d accrued before the Monte Lerno stage had started.
There was little pressure from behind on Saturday for Tänak, who’d already had one Toyota rival drop off the lead fight when Elfyn Evans retired on Friday with a water temperature problem caused by an underside impact.
After Esapekka Lappi then removed himself from the equation with a crash that ripped the rear-left wheel off his GR Yaris, Tänak focused on driving cleanly in the tramlines left by cars ahead of him, to good effect.
Breen’s day-long battle with Sordo was neutralized by the final stage chaos but with the duo given identical times for Monte Lerno, he takes a 20.8s advantage into the final day of Rally Italy in the second-place battle.
Loubet dropped off from said fight slightly midway through the day and lost further ground on the final test of the day with a mistake, ending Saturday 25s away from a podium place.
M-Sport’s newest recruit had a near-identical moment to Sordo from the first pass of the Monte Lerno test, oversteering into a slide on the loose gravel on the exact same left-hander that nearly sent Sordo off the road entirely.
In Loubet’s case he wasn’t quite as perilously close to dropping off the edge, only losing a couple of seconds in a half spin he quickly recovered from.
“In my note I put careful and I brake very early but I think my tire was dead,” explained Loubet. “I go too early in the apex to be secure and that made it worse.”
Katsuta successfully nursed his battle-scarred Yaris to the finish, amid concerns any underside impact would break his radiator for a second time.
Earlier, on the first pass of the Erula – Tula stage, Katsuta had misjudged a cut at a paved hairpin, smashing the front lip of the Toyota on the edge of the asphalt road that was angled slightly upwards.
That triggered some damage to the cooling package that Katsuta was able to remedy by himself later, though he tiptoed through the rest of the day to avoid a potentially day-ending second cooling problem.
That go-slow has left him over a minute behind Rovanperä, though in turn he has over a minute in hand over M-Sport’s Gus Greensmith, so has little to fight for on Sunday.
Nikolay Gryazin now holds a commanding lead in the WRC2 category, pulling away from the remaining podium contenders after Toksport team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen retired with engine failure just before the midday tire fitting zone.
Jan Solans retains second in the support class but still needs to keep an eye on those behind him. Chris Ingram is 15.3s adrift of Solans in the final podium spot but it’s M-Sport works driver Jari Huttunen that was on a march in the afternoon, winning the first passes of both Coiluna – Loelle and Monte Lerno.
Huttunen, who won the WRC2 class on this event last year and even finished fifth overall, is now only 2.3s short of taking Ingram’s third pace.
- Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +11m18.3s
- Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +
- Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +
- Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +
- Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +10.9s
- Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +11.5s
- Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (M-Sport Ford) +11.5s
- Nikolay Gryazin/ Konstantin Aleksandrov (Škoda) +14.7s
- Jan Solans /Rodrigo Sanjuan (Citroën) +15.1s
- Yohan Rossel/Valentin Sarreaud (Citroën) +19.2s
Leading positions after SS17
- Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) 2h43m35.6s
- Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +46.0s
- Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +1m06.8s
- Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (M-Sport Ford) +1m31.8s
- Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +2m23.2s
- Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +3m52.3s
- Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +5m03.3s
- Nikolay Gryazin/ Konstantin Aleksandrov (Škoda) +6m09.2s
- Jan Solans /Rodrigo Sanjuan (Citroën) +6m54.1s
- Chris Ingram/Craig Drew (Škoda) +7m09.4s