Kalle Rovanperä has dropped out of second place on Rally Italy, parking his Toyota up on stage four as Ott Tänak continued to dominate out front.
Rovanperä had been keeping Tänak honest at the head of the field, trailing by six seconds before the start of SS4.
But any plans of an attack were thwarted on the second pass of Terranova as the Finn’s Yaris picked up what looked to be some sort of suspension problem on the front-right corner, and his pace slowed considerably as a result.
Rovanperä lost over four minutes, stopping to allow team-mate Takamoto Katsuta passed on the stage, but was looking OK to drive the car out the stage before deciding he couldn’t and parking his car up for the day.
It’s a bitter blow for both team and driver, and releases Tänak into a clear 16.9s lead, managing to win every single stage of the rally so far.
“It’s tough, it’s rough and it’s a challenge so let’s say really happy to be here without any dramas,” Tänak said.
Hyundai team-mate Dani Sordo is the man occupying second spot, 1.8s ahead of Sébastien Ogier who did an incredible job to end the morning in the podium places considering he was the first car onto the stages.
Ogier lost 0.1s to Sordo on SS4 but confessed to be “happy with my loop”.
Thierry Neuville has snuck up to fourth place, overhauling Katsuta who overcooked his entry into a tight gate and headbutted a haybale with his Yaris WRC.
Neuville is already 16.4s shy of Ogier though, 5.2s up on Katsuta after a morning where he struggled to gel with his Hyundai.
Elfyn Evans is another to have struggled on Friday morning and that struggle continued on SS4 as he dropped another 5.6s to his team-mate Ogier who faces a worse road position as first car in.
Evans’ problems appear to be rooted in a lack of feeling with his Toyota Yaris WRC.
“I can’t get any sensation through the car at the moment,” he said. “When it’s narrow and tricky like this you need the confidence really.”
Evans did at least move up to sixth after team-mate Rovanperä’s problem but is already 41.5s shy of Tänak’s rally lead after just four stages. Katsuta is within touching distance though, 1.2s ahead.
Gus Greensmith and stand-in co-driver Stuart Loudon were sixth fastest on SS4 and move up to seventh because of Rovanperä’s drama, but all didn’t seem too well as Greensmith whose stage-end interview was cut short by an overheating car.
He does now at least enjoy a 31.2s cushion over Pierre-Louis Loubet who rounds out the World Rally Car runners in eighth.
Mads Østberg’s WRC2 lead is now 21s over Hyundai’s Jari Huttunen as chief rival Andreas Mikkelsen rolled his Škoda less than a mile onto the stage.
The championship leader lost control of his Fabia Rally2 evo in a left-hander, the front swapping ends with him which caused a roll.
“It was a left-hand corner in a cut, suddenly the car switched side and it just wanted to go right,” Mikkelsen explained.
“I thought first it snapped something in the steering but when we continued it was fine. I have no idea, it was the most bizarre thing I ever felt.”
Østberg was however hampered by dust left by Mikkelsen. Nikolay Gryazin – who isn’t scoring WRC2 points in Sardinia – also stopped on SS4.
1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) 9m05.9s
2 Dani Sordo/Borja Rozada (Hyundai) +1.4s
3 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +1.5s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +2.9s
5 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +7.1s
6 Gus Greensmith/Stuart Loudon (M-Sport Ford) +9.3s
Leading positions after SS4
1 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) 44m27.4s
2 Sordo/Rozada (Hyundai) +16.9s
3 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +18.7s
4 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +35.1s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +40.3s
6 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +41.5s
7 Greensmith/Loudon (M-Sport Ford) +1m10.9s
8 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Florian Haut-Labourdette (Hyundai) +1m42.1s
9 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) +2m05.8s
10 Jari Huttunen/Mikko Lukka (Hyundai) +2m26.8s