The tight and technical 3.79km Olmedo speed test provided drivers with a brief insight into what lies ahead this weekend. After multiple passes of the stage, both drivers were evenly matched.
Tänak, driving a Hyundai i20, had the edge through the opening runs and set the benchmark at 2min13.6sec on his third pass. The Estonian was a man of very few words at the stage end, his mind fully focused on staying in the championship fight this weekend.
In response, Evans moved his Toyota Yaris up a gear during the fourth and final pass to match it. He was closely followed by team-mate Sébastien Ogier who was just 0.8sec further back.
“It’s going to be a tough rally. It was very dry and loose in here so the grip was quite low, but overall the feeling is okay,” said the championship leader.
Ogier looked and sounded confident as he made the final adjustments ahead of tomorrow’s rally start. The Frenchman currently holds second in the championship standings and is 18 points behind his Toyota team-mate.
“I am going to push for it. The rally is a bit shorter than usual, conditions a bit colder, and there are some new sections, so we'll have to adapt quickly," he said.
Kalle Rovanperä endured a dramatic start to his rally. After going fastest in the opening shakedown pass, he overcooked the right-hander that immediately followed the flying finish and rolled his Yaris. Both he and co-driver Jonne Halttunen were unhurt.
Dani Sordo was delighted to be back behind the wheel of his Hyundai for the first time since Mexico in March. It didn’t take the Spaniard long to get reacclimatised as he went fourth fastest, 1.1sec off the leading pace. Pierre-Louis Loubet was 0.2sec further back in a privately-entered i20.
Thierry Neuville used Thursday’s shakedown to fine-tune the set-up of his Hyundai. The Belgian returned to service to make some minor adjustments after his first pair of runs and eventually rounded out the top six.
M-Sport Ford man Esapekka Lappi was only one-tenth slower than Neuville’s best time in seventh, closely followed by Fiesta team-mate Gus Greensmith in eighth.
VIDEO: RALLY ITALIA SARDEGNA SHAKEDOWN
Takamoto Katsuta went 0.7sec slower than Greensmith in his Toyota, whilst Teemu Suninen rounded out the top ten in another Fiesta.
Thursday’s action also saw a familiar face return to the stages, albeit in a slightly different capacity. Andreas Mikkelsen debuted Pirelli’s new WRC tyres for 2021 as he steered a Citroën C3 through the stage, giving various media personnel the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride in the co-driver’s seat.
"We are here to introduce the Pirelli tyre and enjoy. I will also try to be the co-driver with Petter [Solberg] on Sunday, which will be very interesting!” Mikkelsen explained.
The leading times were:
Full shakedown times are available here
• Full coverage from Rally Italia Sardegna will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.