This is the same stage as last year and one of the toughest of the rally, with stones and rocks on the surface and plenty of bedrock above road level. The first 8km climb on open, wide roads through a series of hairpins, linked by rough but fast sections. The descent is on narrow tree-lined roads with many rocks waiting to trap the unwary.
How the action unfolded:
Rough – a short word but one uttered by every driver after a test in which several said it was so rocky that simply keeping hold of the steering wheel proved difficult.
Evgeny Novikov kept a firm grip inside his Ford Fiesta RS to set fastest time by 4.6sec from rally leader Jari-Matti Latvala’s Volkswagen Polo R (pictured).
How did he do it? “You have to avoid touching anything on either the outside or the inside of the road then you can still drive quickly,” said the Russian.
Driving quickly was not uppermost in most drivers’ minds. Simply getting through unscathed was the focus of most and second-placed Dani Sordo summed it up best.
“It’s terrible. It’s so rough that you cannot drive. There are stones everywhere, the road is completely destroyed. You have to go through the corners slowly because if you go fast then you will break something. It’s a lottery,” said the Spaniard, whose caution brought him sixth fastest time. The Citroen DS3 pilot is now 44.7sec behind Latvala.
The Finn delivered what co-driver Miikka Anttila described as ‘a controlled drive’. “After all the years as a youngster, I’m finally starting to see my experience is paying off!” he joked.
Sebastien Ogier was third in his Polo R, 15.0sec behind Novikov, and the rough roads brought a totally different problem. “It was so rough that it was shaking like hell inside the car and one of the in-car cameras fell off,” said the Frenchman, who is now 11th, but admitted that 10th maybe the highest he could climb.
Thierry Neuville was fourth in his Fiesta RS with Andreas Mikkelsen fifth. The Norwegian’s Polo R has closed to within 8.8sec of Nasser Al-Attiyah in their battle for fourth place.
Mads Ostberg finished with a right rear puncture on his Fiesta RS while Mikko Hirvonen broke the front right wheel rim on his Citroen DS3 7km from the finish. The Michelin tyre lost its air but remained on the rim and the Finn dropped only 48sec.
In worse trouble was Khalid Al Qassimi, who rolled his DS3 into retirement at only the third corner, 100 metres from the start.