The opening 5.2km are new but after that the stage returns to the format used in last year’s Power Stage. It is narrow, with many dips and crests which at night will be tricky in the shadows created by car lights. Trees overhang the road so hanging dust could be an issue and there is 3.5 km asphalt section midway through.
How the action unfolded:
After a flying start to Saturday’s competition, with a fastest time on the opening SS9, second placed Mikko Hirvonen’s chance of a good result in Italy went out the window on SS10 when the Finn put his Citroen DS3 off the road just 500 metres from the start.
Hirvonen’s car was undamaged but remained stuck in a ditch next to a hairpin corner almost within sight of the start control. He retired shortly after.
The chief beneficiary of Hirvonen’s misery was Ford Fiesta RS driver Thierry Neuville, who was second quickest on the stage and now holds the runner-up position overall, almost 47 seconds ahead of Hirvonen’s team-mate Dani Sordo in third.
“Okay, I put some pressure on him, it’s a sport,” said Neuville. “Now we have to stay in this position. I did this job on the last two rallies so I hope to do the same this afternoon.”
Sordo was fourth fastest but under increasing pressure from Volkswagen’s Jari-Matti Latvala who is now just 8sec behind in the overall standings. “Both stages today have been very slippery, and in some places I don’t feel very comfortable. I try to manage the gap [to Latvala] but it’s very difficult,” said the Spaniard.
After losing two minutes with a puncture on Friday’s opening stage, Latvala’s impressive Sardinian salvage job continued, with a third fastest time, and Hirvonen’s departure, putting the Volkswagen driver on course for a podium. “Yes, that one was alright. Okay, our situation has changed, but still we need to chase Sordo.”
Latvala’s team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen, who celebrates his 24th birthday today, was fifth fastest. “I tried to keep the pressure on [Latvala] and I’m happy with the drive, it’s how it should be. We’re still finding places where we can improve but the car is working really nicely.” The Norwegian headed to SS11 in fifth place, trailing Latvala by 27 seconds.
Rally leader Sebastien Ogier was the stage winner on SS10, to keep a relatively comfortable cushion of almost one minute in his Polo R. “For me it’s all okay. I’m not pushing too much. We are in a good road position and for sure I just want to finish like this,” he said.
Re-starting today after rolling out of Friday’s leg, Mads Ostberg was seventh fastest in his Fiesta RS. “The car is good, but we lost the intercom, so I drove about 90 per cent of that one with no pace notes – which was quite interesting,” said Ostberg, who is second in Saturday’s start order.
“There was some dust in the air from the car ahead [the Fiesta RS of Per-Gunnar Andersson]. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem with pace notes, but without them I had to take it steady. We’ll see now if we can sort out the problem.”
Sixth-placed Martin Prokop, meanwhile, reported a worrying amount of smoke coming from the engine of his Ford Fiesta RS.