A repeat of this morning’s opening stage, it runs along a mountainside. It is fast and flowing initially on a mid-to-narrow road with a hard bedrock surface. The surface and width change frequently for the rest of the test. Some parts are narrow but retain the speed, adding to the difficulties. There are crests and many changes of rhythm on what is the roughest stage of the event.
How the action unfolded:
The first of the repeated stages from this morning was rocky and abrasive. All the top drivers were adequately prepared with six hard compound tyres on board, with the exception of Evgeny Novikov, who opted for just one spare.
Sebastien Ogier mastered the conditions better than anyone to take fastest time by 4.6sec from Volkswagen team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala. Although Latvala was quickest early in the stage, Ogier came into his own in the second part to extend his lead to 18.7sec.
“We changed the set-up in service and it feels a bit better. Not perfect, but a bit better,” said the Frenchman.
Latvala remains focused on third-placed Mikko Hirvonen rather than his team-mate.
“It’s an interesting battle with Mikko,” said Latvala. “He has six new tyres and we have four new and two used. So Mikko is probably taking it easy here and then he will attack on the next one. I tried to save the tyres but didn’t want to back off too much because I know he will attack.”
Hirvonen ceded another 10.5sec to his fellow Finn and there was no mistaking the effort he had put in. “It’s really, really hot and I’m sure it’s tough for the tyres. They were moving a lot. I don’t think they are destroyed, but it was hard for them. I have new tyres in the back and I think I will need them,” explained the Citroen DS3 pilot.
Mads Ostberg was fourth in his Fiesta RS, 18.3sec slower than Ogier. With nothing to lose following yesterday’s roll, he admitted he was ‘on a mission’. “It’s very rough and hard for the car and the tyres. We talked about it before the stage and we just decided to go and see how long the tyres last,” said the Norwegian.
Evgeny Novikov was fifth in another Fiesta RS, with Nasser Al-Attiyah completing the top six and aware of an impending battle with the Polo R of Andreas Mikkelsen.
“We need to push to keep Andreas behind. I know he is fast but we’re making a really good time. It’s very hard but I will try to keep this pace,” said the Qatari.
Mikkelsen was seventh but in a rush to leave the stop line without sharing his concerns. Also concerned was Michal Kosciuszko, who damaged the right rear of his Mini JCW, leaving him to fight an ill-handling car.
Robert Kubica was downbeat after a recurrence of the hydraulic issues he suffered on his Citroen DS3 RRC this morning, forcing him to abandon the specially-installed paddle shift gear change and use the manual gear stick with his injured right hand.
“Same issue,” he said. “After about 15km I lost the handbrake and then soon after the gear shifter. It’s a big shame because we were going well near the start. In the circumstances I’m quite happy with the time we managed.”