Juho Hänninen moved into a narrow lead at Rally Italia Sardegna after Friday morning’s opening two dirt speed tests.
Stage info: SS2 / SS3
SS2: Terranova 1, 14.54km
Terranova returns for the first time since 2014, but in a revised format. It’s narrow and technical with a sandy surface that will cut up and become rough. After a short asphalt section at the start, the roads are quite wide initially, before narrowing approaching the 5km mark. The second half dives into the trees, with a fast and technical finale.
SS3: Monte Olia 1, 19.05km
Like the nearby opener, Monte Olia is driven for the first time in three years. It’s a difficult test, with tricky downhill braking shortly before the midpoint and awkward crests located in the middle of corners in the second half. The surface is sandy in places but rocky in others.
The Finn benefited from cleaner roads down the start order to post second fastest time in his Toyota Yaris in the 14.54km Terranova special stage. He then won the following 19.05km Monte Olia to lead Kris Meeke by two-tenths of a second.
“It’s not coming easily. The car is really good but driving is tricky and it’s not easy to find the rhythm. The roads are slippery and there’s a lot of dust in the forest. It’s a big challenge now but I won’t back off,” said Hänninen.
Meeke won Terranova in his Citroën C3 and was second in Monte Olia. “The stages are quite rough, more than anticipated. Dust is a problem. There were four or five bad places in SS2 but it’s even worse in SS3. We have an advantage with our road position but it’s quite interesting when you can’t see!” he said.
Hayden Paddon scored top four times in both stages to hold third in his Hyundai i20, 4.4sec off the lead. The Kiwi had a big smile on his face after a troubled start to the season. “The last month has been amazing in the car. It’s like the old me!” he said.
Mads Østberg was 0.7sec behind in fourth in a Ford Fiesta with a clear 10sec gap to Craig Breen in fifth. However, Breen landed heavily after a jump in Monte Olia and an oil leak in his Citroën C3’s gearbox brought about his retirement on the following liaison section (below).
It was hard-going for the early starters who struggled in the loose gravel and hanging dust. Jari-Matti Latvala fared best to hold sixth in his Toyota Yaris, but Thierry Neuville was 10th after an overshoot in his i20 and road opener Sébastien Ogier was a further place back.
Ott Tänak had a scare after landing his Fiesta awkwardly following a jump, while Esapekka Lappi lost second gear in his Yaris.