The Ukrainian has a 33.5sec advantage in his Ford Fiesta R5 over Abdulaziz Al Kuwari in an RRC version of the same car. Alejandro Lombardo is a distant third, more than eight minutes further back in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.
Friday’s competition got underway with the retirement of two of the drivers tipped to do well this weekend.
Ford Fiesta R5 pilot Subhan Aksa was the first to go. The Indonesian was seventh after Thursday’s two Super Specials but failed to restart this morning after his car’s engine was found to have a broken cylinder head stud.
Next out was New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon, who retired on the road section to Friday’s first stage when his Skoda Fabia S2000 suffered a recurrence of the electrical problem first experienced on Thursday night.
Yazeed Al Rajhi was the WRC 2 pacesetter for much of Friday’s competition. The Saudi Arabian was quickest on four of the day’s stages to build a 23sec lead over Protasov before he retired on stage eight after a collision with a bank midway through left his Ford Fiesta RRC with broken steering.
Arman Smailov was hampered by a broken rear driveshaft on stage five, but was up to third before he too retired after an incident on stage eight. The Kazakhstan driver broke the left-hand rear suspension of his Subaru Impreza WRX when he slid wide into a huge rock. He managed to get his damaged car through the stage, but retired soon after.
Venezuelan driver Carlos Fessman retired on stage seven with gearbox damage after going off the road.
Smailov’s exit promoted Lombardo into third, the Venezuelan in some discomfort after jarring his back early in the day. Alex Gelvez is fourth, and the final WRC 2 competitor, in a Mini RRC.