Esapekka Lappi has slashed Sébastien Ogier’s lead of Rally Italy Sardinia, as Pierre-Louis Loubet ran into issues before even starting the fifth special stage.
Ogier headed into the afternoon with a 16.3-second lead after building a buffer on the long 30-mile stage that concluded the morning loop.
On the first two stages of the morning, he and old team-mate Lappi traded blows to each lead the other by four tenths after the second and third stages respectively.
Ogier was fastest on the first pass of Tantariles 20Ris, but in the afternoon it was Hyundai driver Lappi who emphatically set the pace.
Beating team-mate Thierry Neuville by 6.7s and Ogier by 7.6s, Lappi has closed back up to just 8.7s behind overall.
Tire strategy could be a key factor though, as Ogier has taken three hards and three softs while Lappi has taken just five Pirellis, and four softs.
“Pretty good,” Lappi said. “A clean stage, no drama. No mistakes.”
Asked if taking one spare was a risk, Lappi responded: “The car is lighter so the time is faster.”
Ogier added: “It’s a big challenge still as the weather is unpredictable. Here it’s quite rough as we expected so we are happy to be through.”
M-Sport Ford driver Loubet had been running third overall after the morning, just over 20s shy of the lead, but had his hope dashed on the way onto SS5 as his Puma Rally1 appeared to be stuck in gear.
Lining up in the time control at the start of the stage, cameras picked up Loubet desperately trying to force his gear lever forwards to engage drive, but to no avail.
The stage was then canceled for safety reasons, meaning Dani Sordo – or any of the rest of the WRC field – got a run at it.
Overall positions are therefore unofficial, but Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville should theoretically move up to fourth place despite carrying a mysterious issue.
“We are carrying a small problem,” Neuville said. “I hope it’s going to stay like this for the rest of the loop and not get any worse.”
He’s 2.1s behind Elfyn Evans who admitted his Toyota had taken a pounding on the stage.
Evans said: “It’s pretty hard work for the car, I must say. It’s getting knocked sometimes when you don’t expect it.”
Ott Tänak pipped Kalle Rovanperä by just 0.1s to remain 6.1s ahead overall. But encouragingly, the 2019 world champion was happier with his Puma Rally1 than he had been in Portugal in second-pass conditions.
“The car is definitely better in the second loop, so we have improved,” he said.