Ott Tänak extended his lead on Rally Italy with a first stage win of the event, as Craig Breen retook the final podium spot from Pierre-Louis Loubet.
With the demise of Elfyn Evans’ Toyota on Friday morning due to a hard impact against bedrock, it has been left to Tänak and the best-placed GR Yaris of Esapekka Lappi to battle for victory.
A stage win on Osilo-Tergu added another 2.7 seconds to Tänak’s overall lead, despite concerns that the amount of gravel sweeping for the earlier runners would hinder his pace.
“These ones are cleaning a lot,” said Tänak. “For sure it’s quite a hard surface and it’s coming out, so they will be fast behind. I had a very clean stage.”
But faster they were not, especially Lappi who is in the box seat for road order on Friday. Toyota’s best-placed driver was somewhat surprised he hadn’t lost even more time.
“It felt pretty horrible but seems like it’s OK,” was Lappi’s verdict.
Breen has retaken third place from M-Sport team-mate Loubet despite almost clipping a bridge, in a mistake that ended up costing him only a couple of seconds.
Approaching a slow left, Breen slid wide and stalled his Ford Puma, narrowly avoiding a small bridge wall.
While it cost him a chance to make inroads on the lead, with Breen now 14.1s behind Tänak, it was still more than enough to take the final podium spot from Loubet.
Seventh-placed Takamoto Katsuta continued to fall further behind Dani Sordo and Adrien Fourmaux up ahead, clocking a stage time slower than the fastest WRC2 crews.
It was a similar story for championship leader Kalle Rovanperä, who struggled as road sweeper and remains eighth.
After transmission issues in the morning, Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville is only fighting for a few points now but on SS6 he was able to pass WRC2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen for ninth place.
1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) 9m29.7s
2 Esapekka Lappi/Jenne Ferm (Toyota) +2.7s
3 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +4.0s
4 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai) +4.2s
5 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +5.0s
6 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (M-Sport Ford) +5.8s
7 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +7.2s
8 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +10.4s
9 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +15.0s
10 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +15.9s
Leading positions after SS6
1 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) 1h00m40.8s
2 Lappi/Ferm (Toyota) +6.4s
3 Breen/Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +14.1s
4 Loubet/Landais (M-Sport Ford) +14.7s
5 Sordo/Carrera (Hyundai) +18.8s
6 Fourmaux/Coria (M-Sport Ford) +31.1s
7 Katsuta/Johnston (Toyota) +56.2s
8 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +58.4s
9 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +2m07.3s
10 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Škoda) +2m08.9s