Esapekka Lappi leads Rally Italy Sardinia after Friday’s competitive action, stealing the lead from Sébastien Ogier on the day’s final, and longest, stage but by just 0.1 seconds.
Rain has been a constant threat throughout the weekend in Sardinia, but it finally came for the final stage of Friday – the second pass of the monstrous 30-mile Monte Lerno – Sa Conchedda test.
Ogier had been fastest by over 10s on the first run, but second time around – and for the third stage in succession in the afternoon – the eight-time champion was beaten by Lappi.
Upon learning he’d lost 8.9s but wasn’t sure to who, Ogier quipped: “Hopefully not to EP!”
That comparison was against Kalle Rovanperä who set the pace on the stage, but Ogier did end up losing out to his old team-mate to slip behind to second overall.
“I didn’t try to take too much risks,” Ogier said. “I tried to have a safe drive.”
Lappi, meanwhile, was on the attack.
Trailing Ogier by 6.7s heading onto the stage, Lappi outpaced his rival by 6.8s to move into the narrowest of leads with 12 stages of the rally remaining.
“No need to push harder, one tenth is enough!” Lappi smiled.
“I managed the whole stage, glad to be at the finish. Very tricky in places, and we got a rear-left puncture as well. That started to disturb a bit but we are here, everything OK and looking forward to tomorrow.”
Rovanperä was the man of the stage though, leapfrogging Ott Tänak, Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta to jump up to fourth overall behind third-placed Thierry Neuville.
“Straightaway when we got the weather and mud I tried to push,” said the world champion.
“Not easy, a lot of standing water us. For sure it’s not getting worse for the other when we opened the water.
“I don’t know why but every time it rains I always feel at home.”
Rovanperä is just 1.3s ahead of Katsuta overall, 27.5s behind Neuville, as the other Toyota of Evans went backwards – not helped by a puncture towards the end of the stage.
That looked to have cost him around 20s.
“Front-right puncture with like 7km to go,” Evans said, explaining why he went from 21s to 42s down through the final split.
“What can you do? That’s how it is.”
Evans is just 4.2s ahead of Tänak, who also had a complicated stage.
“We lost the water pump quite early and we are cooking in the engine,” he said.
“In some bump it came back but then we have no water pressure. Oof – we have no power in the engine but we are here.”
M-Sport team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet’s afternoon went from bad to worse as he slipped off the road after his steering broke, running wide and beaching his Puma into a ditch.
Loubet had been third before he was handed a three-minute time penalty when his car wouldn’t engage into gear within the time control at the start of SS5.