SS4/5: Dominant Mikkelsen on top

Andreas Mikkelsen dominated an unpredictable morning to lead Hyundai i20 team-mate and championship leader Thierry Neuville at the midpoint of Friday’s opening leg at Rally Italia Sardegna.

Stage info: SS4/5

SS4: Tergu - Osilo 1, 14.14km
The penultimate test of the loop is fast, wide and smooth on hard-packed bedrock, with plenty of loose stones. 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 line is key – and one in which Kris Meeke rolled out of the lead last year.

SS5: Monte Baranta 1, 11.46km
A new version of Monte Baranta, the opening kilometre of which runs inside the Olmedo mine with jumps and great viewing for fans in a purpose-built arena. It links back to the more familiar route and covers some sections used in Thursday’s shakedown.

The Norwegian held a 14.0sec advantage after four wet and frequently muddy gravel speed tests after torrential early morning rain turned pre-event predictions upside down.

After breaking clear of the pack by winning the opening two speed tests, Mikkelsen retained his advantage with second fastest time in the 14.14km Tergu - Osilo special stage and third in Monte Baranta.

“It was a great morning. We managed to make a difference in the first stage and that felt good. We have a good lead but one spin and Thierry is back with us. The roads will dry this afternoon, but will it dry enough that we have to use hard tyres? I’m not sure,” he said.

Neuville feared opening the traditionally dry stages with a coating of slippery loose stones on the surface. Rain was the present he wanted as conditions turned in favour of the early starters and he capitalised, winning Monte Baranta as he pressed home his advantage.

“I thought there was no chance of being in the top eight this morning. The rain really helped but there is still some cleaning. I pushed very hard and there were a few moments, so maybe we need to calm down a bit,” he said.

Ott Tänak was 2.4sec further back in third, the Estonian struggling to find a perfect rhythm in his Yaris on the tight and twisty roads. He did, however, set fastest time in Tergu - Osilo.

M-Sport Ford team-mates Teemu Suninen and Sébastien Ogier were next up in their Fiestas. The young Finn held a slender 0.1sec advantage over the five-time champion despite not enjoying the slower sections.

Jari-Matti Latvala completed the top six in another Yaris, a further 3.0sec back. He took no risks in the mud and promised there was more to come when the roads dried and his confidence returned.

Mads Østberg was the leading Citroën driver in seventh, regretting fitting two hard tyres to his C3 for Tergu - Osilo which turned out to be far from dry.

Hayden Paddon and Craig Breen were next, the Irishman making the same tyre mistake as team-mate Østberg. Esapekka Lappi completed the leaderboard.

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