The Finn was third after last night’s opening combat, but took his Volkswagen Polo R into the lead when Evgeny Novikov stopped to change a punctured rear right tyre on his Ford Fiesta RS after swiping a rock early in SS4.
Latvala was fortunate to escape a similar fate after hitting a bank in the same stage. However, the only blemish on a clean sweep of stage wins came in the final 21.36km Ziria test when Sordo edged him out by just a tenth of a second.
“I’m happy with the car, although we have a little bit of work to do with the differential. It’s not perfect. There are no problems, but we could improve the set-up. The car isn’t exactly as I want it, as it’s understeering a bit coming out of corners,” he explained.
Novikov’s impact damaged the brakes and suspension and the Russian emerged from Ziria with the wheel pointing at an alarming angle. “I had no choice but to drive it as it is. I have to be able to get to service to continue,” he said, after dropping more than 8min 30sec to plunge to 11th.
The gravel roads in the Peloponnese peninsula were littered with rocks and Sordo’s plan of picking his way around them rather than focusing on sheer pace paid off.
“I’m quite happy with this,” said the Spaniard. “I don’t want to think about the results, just the performance. It’s easy to make a mistake here if you are pushing like hell, and I have no reason to do that.”
Thierry Neuville lies third in a Fiesta RS, 52.1sec behind Sordo, the Belgian matching his pace to the split times of those around him.
Neuville’s job was made easier when Andreas Mikkelsen completed two stages with no brakes on his Polo R. He tried to make repairs before Ziria, incurring a 30 second penalty for starting late, but it was to no avail and he slipped from fourth to fifth.
Nasser Al-Attiyah was the beneficiary, the Qatari putting his vast rough-road experience to good use in a Fiesta RS. “If you push then I’m sure we will do a mistake and cause damage because there are a lot of big rocks. I will try to keep this speed,” he said.
Martin Prokop moved up to sixth in another Fiesta RS with the recovering Mads Ostberg in seventh, despite a steering problem in SS5 on his Ford.
“The locking nut on the steering arm came undone. The arm had opened the steering and it was far out of line. It was impossible to drive but we fixed it,” said the Norwegian, posting third fastest time through Ziria to prove his point.
Mikko Hirvonen is eighth in his Citroen DS3 while Sebastien Ogier lies 15th in his Polo R, despite running first on the road in slippery conditions. “It was familiar for me from the times I had to open the road for my former team-mate in the past,” the Frenchman said with a rueful smile, remembering his days as a team-mate of Sebastien Loeb at Citroen.
After service in Loutraki, competitors repeat the same four stages. While the cool temperatures will not pose a problem for the drivers’ hard compound Michelin rubber, the roads will be even rougher than they were this morning.