Ott Tänak leads Rally Italy after Friday’s eight stages, surviving a late scare on the final day to hold a 19.4-second lead over his team-mate Dani Sordo and championship leader Sébastien Ogier.
Tänak won five of the day’s eight stages but there was some sort of problem on SS8 as a vibration could be heard as he drove from the finish boards to the time control.
The 2019 World Rally Champion hopped out at the end of the stage to assess his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
“It’s nothing new,” he said. “It was the same in Portugal and that’s why we need to be very focused for tomorrow as well.
“I had it since the beginning and have just been coasting through, I’m glad I got here.”
Second-placed Sordo set fastest time on the day’s final three tests – sharing the SS8 win with team-mate Thierry Neuville – to recover 5.6s from Tänak after his sedate run on the final stage.
“In general some first passes I was not really happy, sometimes I struggle a bit with the confidence so now it’s better. At the end of the first day we’re second, so it’s not bad.”
Despite the disadvantage of running first on the road Ogier finished Friday in third position, but is over 36.2s behind the leader and 16.8s shy of Sordo having lost significant ground on the day’s two final tests.
Gaps throughout the field are widening however as Ogier himself has a healthy 25.8s cushion over his Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans.
Neuville ends Friday in fifth overall, closing in on Evans – who had jumped ahead when Neuville punctured on SS7 – on the final test. Neuville was 7.2s quicker than Evans to trail by 1.2s overall but did suffer another slow puncture and a stall.
The frustrated Hyundai driver let his emotions run to the stage-end reporter.
“Unfortunately not our day,” said Neuville. “We struggled in the first two stages but then we had a lot of troubles, two punctures hitting nothing staying in the middle of the road. That’s just too much for one day.
“We probably could’ve caught the gap to Ogier without those punctures and a stall in that last one as well, so a lot to work on for tomorrow.”
Evans meanwhile was simply frustrated by his lack of pace all day. He’s fourth, but 1m02s behind the rally leader.
“We wanted more from the day really,” he admitted. “We’re still here, but not as quickly as we’d have liked to have been here.”
Takamoto Katsuta occupies sixth position, 22.9s adrift of Neuville as he kept it easy to avoid making any silly mistakes.
Gus Greensmith had been seventh for M-Sport with stand-in co-driver Stuart Loudon, but something in the gearbox broke at the start of SS8 and he pulled up at a firebreak just over a mile into the test.
Greensmith and Loudon talked to their engineer back at service about smelling and seeing gearbox oil seeping out of the Fiesta, with the gearbox becoming an increasing worry when looking for traction on the rutted gravel stage.
That elevated the leading Rally2 cars into the bottom four points-scoring spots, and it’s Mads Østberg that heads the pack with a strong 27s lead over WRC2 rival Jari Huttunen.
“It’s been a good day for sure and I’m just purely focusing on my strategy,” Østberg said.
“Like now it’s very rough, I slow down a lot because I don’t want to risk it with a puncture or breaking a wishbone or anything.
“Things happen so easily on these type of stages so I will carry on with my strategy, just push when I’m happy and when it’s rough and difficult I’ll back off.”
The battle in WRC3 has been ferocious with several lead changes throughout the day, but at close of play it’s Yohan Rossel who leads, holding ninth overall to boot in his Citroën. The Frenchman, who leads the WRC3 championship standings, was a strong seventh quickest on SS8.
Kajetan Kajetanowicz had been leading WRC3 before the final stage but failed to make it to the end, sliding into a ditch where there were no spectators to help them back onto the road, paving the way clear for Pepe López to assume second in class and 10th overall.
Pierre-Louis Loubet is down in 14th after he lost all braking in his Hyundai for the final two stages of the day.
=1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 11m10.4s
=1 Dani Sordo/Borja Rozada (Hyundai) +0.0s
3 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +5.6s
4 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +6.5s
5 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +7.2s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +13.4s
Leading positions after SS8
1 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) 1h26m58.0s
2 Sordo/Rozada (Hyundai) +19.4s
3 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +36.2s
4 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +1m02.0s
5 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1m03.2s
6 Katsuta/Barritt (Toyota) +1m26.1s
7 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) +3m41.7s
8 Jari Huttunen/Mikko Lukka (Hyundai) +4m08.7s
9 Yohan Rossel/Alexandre Coria (Citroën) +4m35.8s
10 Pepe López/Diego Vallejo (Škoda) +4m52.1s