Thierry Neuville has won the Rally Italy powerstage dress rehearsal, but just 1.6 seconds separated the five fastest crews on the test.
Battles within the World Rally Car field are non-existent on Sunday, as any potential sting was taken out of the battle between Neuville and Elfyn Evans for second place when Evans stretched clear on the first stage of the day.
Neuville beat Evans by 0.3s on SS18 though, with rally leader Sébastien Ogier another 0.4s back on the timesheets.
“It was a high speed recce so not really a push yet,” said Ogier. “It’s only in the last one I have to try.”
Neuville added in reference to the powerstage: “It’s the only thing we can still try to attempt, some extra points.
“I’m struggling, that’s the only thing we can get from the weekend but if we can get away with a third place this weekend, it would be a pretty good result for us.”
Kalle Rovanperä had backed off on the previous stage to save tires for the powerstage but gave it a bigger push on Aglientu – Santa Teresa as it will be the powerstage later on today.
The 20-year-old was joint third fastest with Ogier and 0.9s faster than Ott Tänak’s Hyundai. But there was some damage to the front splitter of his Toyota which could blunt his attack on the repeat pass when bonus points are awarded.
Takamoto Katsuta again took it steadily on SS18 as he looks to just bring his Toyota home to what be a joint career-best fourth place in the rally.
“We are on the plan and just I need to bring the car back and concentrate on my job,” he said.
Gus Greensmith escaped disaster when he overcommitted to a square-left corner, ran wide and flattened a bush which collapsed in front of his Ford Fiesta WRC instead of stopping it in its tracks.
He then later was too quick into a fast right-hander which put him off-line for the following left, and he drifted the rear wheels of his car into a ditch momentarily.
The result of those little dramas was a time 6.1s slower than M-Sport team-mate Teemu Suninen.
“I’ve got the same problem as yesterday again, it kept flashing on the dash and it took my eye off the road a couple of times,” Greensmith justified.
Jari Huttunen flirted with disaster as he ran wide and almost clobbered a tree in his Hyundai, but the Finn regained the WRC2 lead from Mads Østberg, and subsequently fifth overall, as Østberg punctured and dropped to 17.4s shy of the lead.
“I’m so f****** annoyed, all the things happening all the time,” Østberg said, fresh from a tirade of rage in the cockpit after crossing the finish line.
“These f****** s*** tires, I touched absolutely nothing, straightaway I have a puncture. F****** hell, I’m so f****** tired.”
Østberg wasn’t the only one in the wars as third-placed Marco Bulacia rolled his Škoda at the same corner that caught out Huttunen. The Toksport driver somehow only managed to drop 0.4s to Huttunen on the test though to retain 10th overall.
The three leading WRC3 cars are ahead of Bulacia, and after SS18 it’s Yohan Rossel who’s poised to take a second class win of the year ahead of Pepe López and Jan Solans.
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 5m46.0s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +0.3s
3 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +0.7s
4 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +0.7s
5 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +1.6s
6 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford) +10.8s
Leading positions after SS18
1 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) 3h05m10.0s
2 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +33.8s
3 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1m07.1s
4 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +4m59.0s
5 Jari Huttunen/Mikko Lukka (Hyundai) +8m53.1s
6 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) +9m10.5s
7 Yohan Rossel/Alexandre Coria (Citroën) +9m42.3s
8 Pepe López/David Vallejo (Škoda) +10m05.3s
9 Jan Solans/Rodrigo Sanjuan (Citroën) +10m22.1s
10 Marco Bulacia/Marcelo Ohannesian (Škoda) +10m51.6s