The Qatari driver’s lead over fellow Ford Fiesta S2000 driver Martin Prokop stands at 38.6 seconds with three stages on Sunday remaining. Juho Hanninen is third in his Skoda Fabia, 30.1s further back.
Ott Tanak had been Al-Attiyah’s closest rival at the start of the day but he hit trouble on the opening stage when he dropped his Ford off the road and down a ravine. With no chance of retrieving the car without mechanical assistance, the Estonian was forced to retire from the day. He is now hopeful of returning to the action under SupeRally tomorrow to try and salvage some SWRC points.
Al-Attiyah’s only problem through the day came in the afternoon when the steering column on his Ford worked loose. The former Production world champion used his full quota of cable ties to partially solve the problem and he was relived to reach the service halt in Leon.
“The gap is not so bad,” said the leader. “But tomorrow is still a really long day and we have to be careful. The steering was a bit of a problem for the concentration. Otherwise, it’s good.”
Prokop was the chief beneficiary of Tanak’s problem, moving up to second in his Fiesta. The Czech driver had changed his car’s gearbox overnight, running the same specification as Al-Attiyah - and wishing he’d started the rally like that.
“It’s much better coming out of the corners,” he said. “We get the speed much faster. Okay, we can’t reach sixth gear, but we are taking time from Nasser. We should have had this ‘box from the start, but that’s life.”
As much as he would like to have focused on chasing the leader, Prokop’s main concern was coming from behind - in the shape of Juho Hanninen.
The Finn was the fastest SWRC driver through day two, reeling off a succession of scratch times to halve the gap between his Skoda and the Fiesta ahead. Hanninen’s run through the three afternoon gravel stages was hugely impressive as he took 9.9, 5.7 and 8.8 seconds respectively out of Prokop.
“It’s been a good day,” admitted Hanninen, who lost considerable time on Friday morning with a spin. “I am trying to keep the speed, pushing but not to take so many risks. It would not be good to go off the road now. I was a little bit worried this morning, I pushed like crazy but the gap was not so much. This afternoon has been better. We will see what can happen tomorrow, but for sure the thing I need to do is to keep the rhythm for the driving that I have now. It’s quite ironic that I am in third place, which is nice, but also I am last in the SWRC!”
Skoda driver Karl Kruuda stopped on the road section heading to the Leon Street Stage prior to midday with a suspected fuel pump problem. The Estonian stopped at the same point on Friday.