Yazeed Al Rajhi snatched the WRC 2 lead in the final kilometres of a dramatic opening leg at Rally Italia Sardegna.
The Saudi Arabian leaped from third to first in the last stage and holds a slender 4.1sec advantage over Nasser Al-Attiyah. Portugal’s Bernardo Sousa is almost 1min 40sec back in third. All three drivers are in Ford Fiesta RRCs.
Yuri Protasov led after last night’s curtain-raising street stage in Cagliari, but Al-Attiyah moved to the front once the action headed into the sun-kissed gravel stages in the north of the Mediterranean island.
He headed Karl Kruuda, who is debuting the new Peugeot 208 T16 in WRC 2, despite a misfire. But when Al-Attiyah was trapped in the dust of Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20 WRC, the Estonian moved into a 26.2sec lead after the first of two loops of four stages.
With his car restored to health, Al-Attiyah closed in and reduced the gap before Kruuda stopped with mechanical issues early in the last stage. Al Rajhi then completed a hat-trick of consecutive fastest times to overhaul Al Attiyah and move ahead.
Sousa was hampered by hanging dust in the final test but is 19.0sec ahead of championship leader Yuriy Protasov, who suffered brake problems this morning.
Just three seconds further back is Sébastien Chardonnet in Citroen’s new DS3 R5, while 2013 championship runner-up Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari completes the top six.
A front right puncture delayed Lorenzo Bertelli before his hopes were derailed when he went off the road in hanging dust. Ott Tänak retired after power steering problems and two punctures sidelined his Fiesta R5 this morning.
Quentin Gilbert was on course for fifth but the Frenchman ripped a wheel from his Fiesta R5 in the final stage, while Egon Kaur dropped from third after losing more than three minutes this morning in his Fiesta R5.
Others sidelined during the day were Production Cup leader Max Rendina, Valeriy Gorban, Julien Maurin and Martin McCormack.