The most southerly stage of the rally was used in both 2011 and 2012. It has a smooth, hard surface with challenging sections that demand precise lines. There isn't a straight worthy of the name, the fast, wide road sweeping from one great corner to another.
How the action unfolded:
The battle for the lead remained as tight as in the previous stage – the difference being that now it is Thierry Neuville (pictured) and Sebastien Ogier who are tied at the top.
Ogier was fastest by 0.9sec in his Volkswagen Polo R, and that was enough to move him level with the Belgian, who was second quickest in his Fiesta RS.
The Frenchman said he was not surprised at Neuville’s pace given his speed here last year and added: “We expected a close fight and it’s going to be a good one.”
Neuville was the epitome of coolness at the finish. “In some places I was maybe a bit careful but we have to check our pace notes. It’s a new system compared to last year. I could have been quicker, but already we’re driving very fast,” he warned.
A superb third fastest was Kris Meeke on his Citroen DS3 debut, just 1.7sec behind Ogier. “We have to be careful because we have no more spare tyres, so I was driving in the middle of the road all the time,” said the Ulsterman, who punctured in the previous stage.
Mikko Hirvonen, who was tied with Neuville after two tests, dropped 2.0sec to Ogier but was unperturbed at just 1.1sec off the lead in his DS3. “I’m not relaxed enough. It’s not as flowing as it should be, but the differences are really small, so it’s OK. We are in a good place,” said Hirvonen.
Fifth was Mads Ostberg’s Fiesta RS, the Norwegian admitting he couldn’t find a rhythm. “It’s a stage I know quite well but I struggled in a few sections. In a few places I lost too much time,” he explained.
So what of Jari-Matti Latvala? The Finn and co-driver Miikka Anttila worked furiously to repair their Volkswagen Polo R after breaking the rear left suspension in the previous stage when they hit a rock, dropping almost 40sec.
They started the test 28 minutes late, incurring a 4min 40sec penalty, and dropped three minutes in the stage itself. But Latvala’s commitment to get the car to the end of the day could not be doubted.
“I will really, really try but it’s going to be tough. The suspension was badly damaged but I’m happy how well our repairs have taken, so I hope to keep going,” he said.