Ott Tänak won all four of this morning's speed tests to head a Hyundai i20 1-2 at Rally Italia Sardegna.
The dominant Estonian led team-mate Dani Sordo by 16.9sec after mastering gruelling gravel tests in the north of the Mediterranean island. Sébastien Ogier was a surprise third, 1.8sec further back, despite opening the sandy roads.
Kalle Rovanperä kept the pressure on Tänak with top three times in the opening three tests in his Toyota Yaris. He trailed by just 6.0sec, but the young Finn’s hopes ended when he stopped in the morning’s final stage with front right suspension damage.
Competitors faced two loops of the Filigosu – Sa Conchedda and Terranova tests. Both had a hard base which was exposed for the repeat pass as cars swept away the sandy surface.
Normally drivers would opt for set-up changes and harder tyres to adapt to the different conditions for the second loop, but with the stages driven twice before service, that opportunity was not there.
That didn’t worry Tänak, whose morning went without a hitch.
A tyre problem meant Sordo lost one of the six he started with, while his relationship with new co-driver Borja Rozada suffered teething troubles. They are competing together for only the second time and became ‘lost’ in the pace notes in the first run through Terranova.
Ogier was delighted at limiting his time loss on the sandy roads in his Toyota Yaris and the championship leader had 16.4sec in hand over Thierry Neuville’s i20.
The Belgian languished in seventh after the first two stages but changes to the suspension set-up brought an upturn in pace and he was fourth in the second pass of both tests.
Neuville demoted Takamoto Katsuta in the final stage when the Japanese driver stalled his Yaris’ engine, overshot a junction and nosed into a bale. The gap between the pair was 5.2sec, with Katsuta holding off Yaris’ colleague Elfyn Evans by 1.2sec in sixth.
Evans had a frustrating morning, the Welshman unable to find the same feeling that took him to victory at the last round in Portugal.
Gus Greensmith was seventh in a Ford Fiesta. He dropped two wheels into a ditch in the opening stage and rued a set-up that proved too soft for the conditions. The Briton had 31.2sec on hand over Pierre-Louis Loubet.
FIA WRC2 leader Mads Østberg was ninth in a Citroën C3 Rally2 with Jari Huttunen completing the leaderboard in an i20 Rally2.
Teemu Suninen’s return to the top-level after two events in FIA WRC2 proved short-lived when the Finn tipped his Fiesta onto its side in the opening Filigosu – Sa Conchedda. The crew got the car back onto four wheels, but it remained stuck and he retired from the leg.