This stage was run last year for the first time, although it may well be more familiar to many drivers from testing in previous seasons. Apart from a new 150 metre section, it is identical to last year, offering a road with a solid base. It is wide and smooth initially and after crossing the main road at 4.7km, it descends on even wider roads, with fewer corners and fast straights.
How the action unfolded:
Thierry Neuville’s second consecutive fastest time promoted him into fourth place, moving within striking distance of Mikko Hirvonen and Mads Ostberg ahead.
The young Belgian enjoyed the extra grip provided by the cleaner afternoon roads and was fastest by two-tenths of a second in his Ford Fiesta RS from leader Sebastien Ogier.
Neuville’s efforts moved him ahead of Dani Sordo and he is now just seven seconds behind second-placed Hirvonen and five seconds adrift of Ostberg in third.
“I feel very comfortable, especially when the grip is high and I know I can go fast without mistakes,” he said. “When the grip isn’t so good, I don’t feel so confident. The engineers have done a good job with the settings and it feels like driving on a circuit.”
Ogier took a close look at his Polo R at the stage finish as steam was emerging from the car, but the Frenchman did not appear concerned. “I tried to drive cleanly to look after my tyres and I think we will be OK to finish the day,” he said.
With the longest stage of the rally next up, drivers were again focused on preserving their tyres, happy to sacrifice a few seconds to ensure their rubber remained in good condition.
“I tried to save the tyres for the long one but I’m still quite pleased with my time,” said third fastest Jari-Matti Latvala. The Volkswagen driver was 1.4sec behind Neuville, and 4.3sec clear of Mads Ostberg, who was a little confused by the tyre changing strategy of some of his rivals.
“It seems like the others are running a different strategy but we will see if it pays off on the long one,” he said.
Dani Sordo was fifth in his Citroen DS3, slipping five seconds behind Neuville in the standings. Andreas Mikkelsen rounded off the top six, the Norwegian admitting his front tyres were badly worn and cost him time during the final kilometres.
P-G Andersson limped through with continuing driveshaft problems in his Fiesta RS. The Swede dropped 1min 16sec, but was hopeful of getting the car through the long Monte Lerno test. “It’s the left rear driveshaft. I tightened the differential so it’s pulling and I think we’ll make it,” he explained.