Ott Tänak produced perfection to win all six speed tests and take a commanding lead at Rally Italia Sardegna on Saturday night.
He finished the longest and toughest leg of the four-day Mediterranean island rally with a 25.9sec advantage in his Toyota Yaris over previous leader Dani Sordo. Teemu Suninen was a further 17.0sec behind in third in a Ford Fiesta.
Having overnighted in third, the Estonian took the lead in the last of this morning’s three tests, before extending his 6.4sec advantage to almost half a minute when the stages were repeated this afternoon.
Neither Sordo nor Suninen had any answer to his pace. Spaniard Sordo finished second in all three morning tests, while Suninen did likewise twice this afternoon.
Abrasive rocky tracks and high temperatures posed a fierce test for cars, drivers and tyres. Tänak’s morning mix of Michelin’s medium and hard compound rubber, followed by the durable hards this afternoon, paid dividends.
“To win all the stages is great, but my main priority is the rally win, stage wins make no difference,” he said. “It was a good fight today, Dani was pushing hard and did a really good job. I tried to be careful this afternoon because it was really rough in places.”
Sordo lost vital seconds this morning as his Hyundai i20, shod with hard tyres, suffered wheelspin. Suninen was delighted with his performance, blending pace with caution as he benefited from highly experienced co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen’s knowledge for the first time.
Elfyn Evans and Andreas Mikkelsen fought furiously for fourth. They swapped places in every morning test and the gap never exceeded 2.6sec until the final stage, when Mikkelsen lost time with badly worn tyres in his i20. Evans ended on top by 7.9sec in his Fiesta.
Both kept Kris Meeke at arm’s length until the Briton stopped to change a puncture on his Yaris in the final test. He dropped to eighth.
His time loss promoted Thierry Neuville into sixth, almost a minute adrift of team-mate Mikkelsen. The Belgian made a poor tyre choice this morning and struggled to find a rhythm in his i20, despite changing the set-up at the midpoint service.
Esapekka Lappi was seventh while behind Meeke, Juho Hänninen and Kalle Rovanperä completed the top 10.
It was another disappointing day for Sébastien Ogier. Returning after yesterday’s crash, the Frenchman again hit a rock and broke his C3’s rear suspension arm. He made roadside repairs before limping through the next stage and into the haven of the Alghero service.
Sunday’s final leg is the shortest of the weekend at 41.90km. Two identical loops of two stages culminate in the picture-postcard Wolf Power Stage along the west coast, which offers bonus points to the fastest five drivers.