WRC 2 in Italy:
Lefebvre leads the way
Stéphane Lefebvre claimed the WRC 2 lead after Friday’s opening leg of Rally Italia Sardegna, overcoming challenging weather conditions in his Citroën C3 R5.
The morning loop of stages was characterised by changeable conditions as rain and fog added to the unpredictability of the island’s gravel roads.
Despite a stage win in the Monte Baranta test, Lefebvre was unable to take a decisive early lead thanks to the strong pace of Ole Christian Veiby.
But when the Skoda Motorsport driver was struck by a suspension issue in the afternoon, that left the door open for Lefebvre to take control.
Lefebvre’s fastest times in SS7 and SS9 were combined with second place on the treacherous second pass of Tula – where others lost minutes thanks to the slippery conditions – to give the Frenchman a 14.0sec lead at the end of the day.
Second place was filled by Jan Kopecký after the Czech driver recovered from a slow start. The Škoda Fabia pilot was 9.4sec faster than the rest of the WRC 2 runners in the Tula 2 test and that confidence in heavy rain allowed him to move up from fourth place. Another stage win in SS8 helped Kopecký to stop Lefebvre from pulling too far ahead.
Nicolas Ciamin finished third, having shown strong pace in his Hyundai i20 R5 during the afternoon loop. A clean run allowed the Frenchman to capitalise on others' mistakes but struggles in the slippery Tula 2 test left him 1m17.8sec shy of Lefebvre’s benchmark pace.
An overshoot in tricky conditions cost Fabio Andolfi more than a minute in Tula 2 but he held on to his fourth place at the end of the leg as Takamoto Katsuta didn't drive as cleanly as he would have wanted in his Tommi Mäkinen Racing Ford Fiesta. The Japanese driver completed the leg in fifth, 38.5sec behind his Italian rival.
Benito Guerra filled sixth place in his Skoda Fabia R5. He was 14.2sec ahead of Pierre-Louis Loubet who won the first stage of the day – before dramatically dropping down the order when he lost more than two minutes in SS6. A 10-second time penalty for arriving a minute late at TC8 added to the Frenchman’s misery.
Vodafone Rally de Portugal podium finisher Lukasz Pieniazek finished ninth after a tough day for the Fabia driver. Going off and hitting the tree on SS5, he slid into a ditch one stage later and lost almost four having been pushed nack onto the road. A puncture on SS7 added to his eventual five minute deficit to the leader.
There were three retirements during the day. Hiroki Arai retired on SS5 with a mechanical problem after winning SS3 and holding an early lead. Lefebvre’s team-mate, Simone Tempestini, retired his C3 R5 in SS6, while European Rally champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz also dropped by the wayside in the same stage with a broken steering arm.
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