Thierry Neuville’s promised Monza Rally charge for the lead was over almost before it began as he damaged his Hyundai half a mile onto SS9 Selvino, while Elfyn Evans took the lead back from Sébastien Ogier.
Third-placed Neuville won the first stage of Saturday to narrow his deficit to rally leader Ogier down to 18.5 seconds.
He had vowed to try to catch back time on the leading Toyotas of Ogier and Evans – who are disputing the World Rally Championship title this weekend – but undid his positive progress with a wild moment early on SS9.
Neuville drifted through a sweeping, double-apex right-hander, losing the rear of his i20 Coupe WRC after seemingly approaching with a bit too much speed.
As Neuville slid, the front came back round to the inside of the turn and clouted an Armco barrier at the second apex – pitching the Hyundai into a half-spin and damaging the front-right; the bumper ripped off and the hood hanging slightly loose.
Neuville immediately lost around 15s with his error, and eventually he dropped 24.2s to Dani Sordo to slip to fourth, 17.8s back from his team-mate.
But Neuville didn’t seem too stressed about the damage done.
“I did some set-up changes before the stage and with the tire was not 100% warm I just start to slide,” he said.
“I was so close to making the corner but didn’t, I just lost time trying to restart the car basically.”
Evans meanwhile, who lost 4.6s on SS8, hit back at Ogier on SS9 – beating his rival by 3.8s to establish a 2.3s advantage; reclaiming the lead he lost on the previous test.
“Everything was working quite OK, so better than the first one. We’re trying,” Evans said.
Ogier was undeterred by the position change however as if he finishes anywhere on the podium this weekend, he will win an eighth world title.
“All good, like I say I’m happy concentrating on myself,” he said.
Asked if he’d be on a big push, Ogier simply replied: “Clean drive.”
Oliver Solberg had struggled with a Hyundai that was too soft on the Saturday’s opener, but some changes between stages seemed to create the opposite problem as he described his i20 Coupe WRC as “floating”.
“This run was absolutely terrible, probably my worst drive all weekend,” he added.
Takamoto Katsuta took an impressive 13.5s from Gus Greensmith in the pair’s battle for sixth, extending his overall advantage to 21.1s. But the Toyota driver was carrying a mysterious problem.
“I’m losing grip a lot this stage, we know the reason but it could be a lot better,” Katsuta said.
Asked what the reason was, Katsuta smiled: “[It’s a] secret.”
Greensmith, who had struggled with brake fade on the previous stage, admitted the problem was “worse” on Selvino.
“No brakes from pretty much three kilometers into the stage, so it’s hard to manage them,” he said.
Teemu Suninen has closed to just 1.6s behind his old M-Sport team-mate Greensmith as a result.
Kalle Rovanperä did nothing surprising on SS9, continuing his reduced pace to act as Toyota’s insurance policy as it bids for the manufacturers title.
But he entertained at the stage finish, describing his driving as like “taking granny to the church”.
Rovanperä was 14.8s slower than Adrien Fourmaux who was the second-slowest World Rally Car on Selvino.
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) 16m12.3s
2 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai) +3.7s
3 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +3.8s
4 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +8.5s
5 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai) +11.5s
6 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Hyundai) +13.9s
Leading positions after SS9
1 Evans/Martin 1h29m37.5s
2 Ogier/Ingrassia +2.3s
3 Sordo/Carrera +27.1s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +44.9s
5 Solberg/Edmondson +1m02.6s
6 Katsuta/Johnston +1m21.3s
7 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +1m42.4s
8 Suninen/Markkula (Hyundai) +1m44.0s
9 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Haltunnen (Toyota) +2m39.6s
10 Yohan Rossel/Jacques-Julien Renucci (Citroën) +5m50.6s