This is the only stage that is identical to last year when it was run for the first time. It is smooth and sandy, and will quickly become rutted. It is mostly narrow, technical and undulating but offers a little bit of everything - tight and twisty sections, hairpins, rocks lining the road and a 1.6km asphalt main road. As such it has no real flow and it is hard to generate a rhythm.
How the action unfolded:
Fresh from a remote service in Sassari, fifth-placed Thierry Neuville was the pacesetter on the repeated Castelsardo test.
The Belgian, who drives a Ford Fiesta RS, narrowed the gap to fourth-placed Dani Sordo to just 2.6 seconds.
“The car felt much better after we made some adjustments to the brakes,” said Neuville. “They have much more bite now, and I was able to settle into a comfortable driving rhythm.”
With most of the loose gravel swept away on the earlier pass, the repeat offered all the drivers much more grip, but the hard-packed abrasive road surface had the potential to quickly destroy tyres.
Rally leader Sebastien Ogier was second fastest through, and one of many drivers to adopt a tyre saving approach. “It will be a long afternoon so we had to think about them,” said the Polo R driver. “We stayed in the middle of the road for most of the stage.”
“It’s tricky,” said Citroen’s Mikko Hirvonen, who was third fastest, “We were driving carefully to save the tyres but when we got the split times it’s hard not to start pushing them harder again.”
Sixth fastest in his Fiesta RS, Mads Ostberg told a similar story. “We took it steady because there was such high grip. So, maybe not our best stage time, but we want to have tyres left for the next ones.”
Jari-Matti Latvala, however, said a scare early in the stage had knocked his confidence: “We had a really hard impact on our right-hand front corner – I think it was a hole in the road. I really thought we had broken something like the wheel or the brakes but it seemed okay. It took me a while to build up the speed again.”
His Polo R back to full strength after a new suspension joint was fitted in service, Andreas Mikkelsen was seventh fastest. “Now everything is perfect. The car is nice to drive again. A good stage, clean, no mistakes,” he said.
Meanwhile Per-Gunnar Andersson was concerned that his 2013 debut in a World Rally Car could be almost over. “There’s something wrong, I think it’s a driveshaft,” he said. “I could feel it pulling a lot in the last few kilometres. We’ll have a look now and see what we can do.”