Esapekka Lappi leads Rally Italia Sardegna overnight after winning this evening’s superspecial stage in the suburbs of host city Olbia.
With thousands of fans watching the action, Lappi quickly found his rhythm to edge M-Sport Ford Puma driver Ott Tänak by 0.2s through the 3.20-kilometre curtain-raiser, which featured a thrilling blend of smooth asphalt roads combined with off-road tracks and jumps.
He relished the opportunity to “play” with his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid before the pressure is cranked up on Friday, the first of three days of intense competition.
“This was fun,” said the Finn, who starts round six of the FIA World Rally Championship season on a high following podiums in Croatia and Portugal. “You have enough space and you can play with the car. On the gravel you just go fully sideways and keep the foot on the throttle because it's so slippery – that's the only way to do it.”
Lappi’s team-mate Thierry Neuville was only half a second off the pace, taking third overall by a mere 0.4s from Toyota star Takamoto Katsuta. WRC points leader Kalle Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier – both driving Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 cars – complete the top six.
Just eight-tenths of a second covered Dani Sordo, Elfyn Evans and Pierre-Louis Loubet while WRC2 leader Oliver Solberg rounded out the top 10.
Friday is a demanding day with three stages, each run twice either side of a service, lying in wait. Tantariles (10.71 kilometres) is up first, followed by a short blast through Terranova (8.41 kilometres. The ultimate test, however, will be the return of Monte Lerno - Sa Conchedda in its 49.90-kilometre format. The monster stage rounds out both loops and incorporates the fan-favourite Micky’s Jump, where cars fly high into the air.