Ott Tänak remains in front on Rally Italy but is fortunate to still have the lead, as Esapekka Lappi had been set to moved ahead of him until suffering a puncture.
Lappi was flying on the second pass of Monti di Ala e Budduso and all set to score the fastest time and take the rally lead.
That was until he picked up a flat tire around four miles from the finish, with Tänak finding afterwards his advantage had extended to 3.7 seconds.
Despite being in the thick of the lead battle, Tänak remained somewhat frustrated with his car’s ultimate pace.
“We are trying very hard,” said Tänak. “Some things which are really, let’s say, really difficult to manage, but we are trying our best.
“Since Portugal at least the chassis has improved, so chassis is good. But the rest, if it could be like where it needs to be, it would be a great car.”
Lappi meanwhile couldn’t understand how he’d picked up the puncture, though was mostly relieved it had cost him so little time.
“I have no idea to be honest why,” said Lappi. “Anyway, we didn’t lose too much. I managed to keep some speed. But it’s quite nasty when it’s really rough and you don’t see the solid rocks.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet closed in on the leading duo with third-fastest time and is now only 8.9s off the lead, while M-Sport team-mate Craig Breen is closing in even faster.
Breen clocked the second-fastest time behind stage winner Dani Sordo, putting him only 1.2s off Loubet for the final podium spot and 10.1s off the top spot.
Sordo’s second consecutive stage win has helped him charge from 11th at the start of Friday morning to fifth place heading to midday service, though it was partially at the expense of team-mate Thierry Neuville.
On the first full day of action in Portugal last month, Neuville had lost over a minute with a driveshaft failure. This time around, a transmission fault delivered an even bigger time loss.
Adrien Fourmaux has moved up to sixth despite a front-left puncture – one which confused the M-Sport driver as it wasn’t on the tire he’d expected.
“I thought I had a front-right puncture as there was a rock in the road in the rut so I couldn’t avoid it. But on the front-left, I don’t know!
“It was rough, there was rocks everywhere. We did four last kilometers with a puncture. But it’s not too bad honestly.”
Takamoto Katsuta has taken seventh place from team-mate Kalle Rovanperä, who struggled badly with a missing rear wing he’d sheared off with a moment on the second pass of Terranova.
“Not good,” Rovanperä surmised. “I was expecting that it’s not maybe that bad. But it’s really horrible. Even medium-speed corners you cannot do anything.”
The stage was stopped when the Rally2 cars were due to enter, and as a result all were given a notional time of 15m29.2s. The slowness of that time meant Neuville, despite his time loss, goes into the afternoon in 10th place behind WRC2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen but ahead of the rest of the secondary class cars.
1 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai) 14m49.2s
2 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +3.0s
3 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (M-Sport Ford) +5.2s
4 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +6.1s
5 Esapekka Lappi/Jenne Ferm (Toyota) +8.9s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +10.6s
7 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +16.2s
8 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +18.3s
9 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +29.4s
10 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1m48.5s
Leading positions after SS5
1 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) 51m11.1s
2 Lappi/Ferm (Toyota) +3.7s
3 Loubet/Landais (M-Sport Ford) +8.9s
4 Breen/Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +10.1s
5 Sordo/Carrera (Hyundai) +14.6s
6 Fourmaux/Coria (M-Sport Ford) +26.1s
7 Katsuta/Johnston (Toyota) +41.2s
8 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +42.5s
9 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Škoda) +1m56.0s
10 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +2m00.1s