Hayden Paddon led Rally Italia Sardegna after Kris Meeke rolled out of top spot on Friday morning’s final speed test.
Stage info: SS4 / SS5
SS4: Tula 1, 15.00km
Tula was introduced in 2016 and is unchanged this year. The surface is sandy in places and some roads have grass growing in the middle. It’s twisty in parts with some big compressions and jumps. It passes through a wind farm before finishing on a single width road through a series of hairpin bends.
SS5: Tergu - Osilo 1, 14.14km
The last test of the loop is wide and smooth on hard-packed bedrock, with plenty of loose stones. The first 1.3km is new for 2017. After a steady climb through the opening 5km, it crosses a main road and descends gently to the finish via several barriered bridges. It’s a great drivers’ stage where keeping to the driving line is key.
Meeke headed the Kiwi by 0.8sec going into the 14.14km Tergu - Osilo, but crashed his Citroën C3 before halfway. He dropped nearly eight minutes limping to the finish with heavy damage to co-driver Paul Nagle’s side, and a smashed windscreen blocked by a broken bonnet.
“I was in fourth gear, the road was rough and I touched the right rear on a bank and that spat the car over onto its roof. Everything felt good, I wasn’t focused on a target, just settling. We will see if we can get back out but it’s not good enough at the moment,” said the Ulsterman.
Paddon climbed to second in the previous Tula stage before claiming a 4.3sec lead over Juho Hänninen, despite inhaling fumes when his Hyundai i20’s exhaust burned the bodywork.
“We’re driving to a plan. Today is all about driving cleanly, it’s not a day for pushing. It’s key to be consistent and not drop time. Something was burning in the back and it made a hole. It’s very noisy in the car and difficult to concentrate on the pace notes,” said Paddon.
Toyota Yaris driver Hänninen, who conceded the lead in Tula after dropping 10sec to his rivals, caught and passed the struggling Meeke but was not delayed.
Mads Østberg was only a tenth behind Hänninen in third, the Norwegian setting second fastest time in his Ford Fiesta in Tula.
Ott Tänak was fourth in a similar car, a further 10.3sec behind, and leading a quartet of championship frontrunners who endured the worst of the slippery gravel-covered roads. He was followed by Thierry Neuville, Jari-Matti Latvala and road opener Sébastien Ogier.
Andreas Mikkelsen was eighth after a cautious morning on his C3 debut. Dani Sordo was fastest in Tula but plunged to ninth after dropping a minute with a suspected damaged turbo in the next test.
Esapekka Lappi completed the leaderboard, the Finn winning Tergu-Osilo despite completing most of the morning without second gear in his Yaris.
Elfyn Evans retired from ninth after crashing his Fiesta in Tula (below).