Esapekka Lappi responded to Sébastien Ogier in their fight for the Rally Italy Sardinia lead – as the rally leader suffered a big scare through a water crossing.
It had been a problem for Takamoto Katsuta, Ott Tänak and Elfyn Evans on Saturday morning – who all suffered engine problems thanks to dodgy passes through water.
And this time it was Ogier’s turn, who fortunately for him suffered the least of the trio before him, but it still took a big chunk of time out of his lead on Saturday afternoon’s first stage.
A stage win for Lappi decreased the gap to just 10.5 seconds, as Ogier was in a hurry to get away from the stop control to make sure his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 was OK.
“I don’t know [what happened],” said Ogier. “I took it easy but still the engine died. I have to go.”
For Lappi it was all systems go as he began his hunt for first place, and with Ogier potentially having an engine issue, the battle for the lead is sure to intensify through the rest of Saturday afternoon.
“It was an easy stage – now the interesting ones are coming,” Lappi said.
“Let’s see what the weather will bring. I am full on it, I can tell you. It doesn’t look like it, but I am!”
The threat of rain had been looming as Saturday unfolded but was yet to fall as the morning loop came to a close.
But that all changed on the opening stage of the day’s second run, with some showers littering the Coiluna – Loelle test.
It wasn’t enough to throw up any major drama, but the drivers will be wary of the ever-changing conditions on the final three stages of Saturday’s action.
Behind the leading pair Thierry Neuville continued to push in his quest to reach the top two. He ended SS12 9.5s off Lappi and a further 20s from Ogier.
Kalle Rovanperä continued to sit in a lonely fourth, almost three minutes ahead of Evans who is back up to full speed after fixing the issue he picked up on Saturday morning through a water crossing.
At the back of the Rally1 field, Dani Sordo has been chipping away and making good progress throughout Saturday following his Friday troubles.
The Hyundai driver broke back into the top six at the end of the morning loop and is on hand to make up any more places should a driver ahead suffer any major problems.
“I am sure it will clean a lot in the stage,” he said. “I am satisfied with the car but I was really careful with the tires. It’s quite aggressive for the tires, this stage.”