Image: Rally Italia Sardegna - O. Tänak/M. Järveoja (photo DPPI)
Ott Tänak opened up a slender lead after Friday’s morning loop at Rally Italia Sardegna as Elfyn Evans retired with technical troubles.
The Estonian seized the top spot on the penultimate stage of the loop and brought his Hyundai i20 N back to midday service in Alghero with just 3.7sec in hand over Esapekka Lappi after a hot and dusty morning on the Mediterranean stages.
Lappi, making his GR Yaris Rally1 gravel debut, kept the pressure on from start to finish and even led briefly after the third stage. However, a front left puncture on the second pass of Monti di Alà e Buddusò prevented him from reclaiming the lead.
Evans initially drew first blood with the fastest time on SS2, but a compression on the following test resulted in radiator damage and he was forced to retire his Toyota GR Yaris shortly after the stage.
It marked the Welshman’s third retirement of the year and his championship hopes are now further in doubt.
Competitors faced two loops of the Terranova and Monti di Alà e Buddusò 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 trouble.
"We are trying very hard,” he said at the end of the loop. “Some things are difficult to manage, but we are trying our best.
“The chassis of the car has improved a lot since Portugal, and if we can get it to exactly where it needs to be then this will be a great car,” he added.
Pierre-Louis Loubet completed the leading trio just 5.2sec behind Lappi. The Frenchman enjoyed a consistent morning despite overshooting a hairpin and headed his M-Sport Ford team-mate Craig Breen - who also missed a junction - by 1.2sec.
Two-time Italy winner Dani Sordo struggled to find a comfortable set-up on the first pass, but stepped up the pace after making some tweaks to his i20 in the regroup. He ended 4.5sec slower than Breen in fifth after winning the final test of the morning.
Puma hotshot Adrien Fourmaux was 26.1sec adrift of the leaders after nursing a front left puncture on SS5. He had Toyota hotshot Takamoto Katsuta behind, followed by road-opener Kalle Rovanperä, whose Yaris lost a portion of its rear wing after a moment on SS4.
Thierry Neuville and Gus Greensmith rounded off the leaderboard, both over two minutes in arrears after a frustrating start.
Neuville’s was forced to nurse a transmission fault on his Hyundai late in the loop, while Greensmith’s time was lost earlier in the day when his Puma struggled to restart following an overshoot.