Valentino Rossi has ended the penultimate day of the Monster Energy Monza Rally on top and holds a comfortable 33.6s gap on the chasing pack as he hunts his fourth career win.
In his traditional end of year switch from two to four wheels, the nine-time world champion is a regular star at the Italian rally event which cuts across the Monza national park and the Grand Prix circuit, with Rossi racing alongside childhood friend and a familiar face in his MotoGP garage Alessio 'Uccio' Salucci.
The event has two final stages remaining on the last day of action and Rossi will look to wrap up victory by bringing his Ford Fiesta WRC 1.6 machine safely home.
Rossi had been fighting for top spot with WRC driver Thierry Neuville after the opening day with the #46 edging ahead at SS3 after his Belgian rival lost a huge chunk of time during the second running of the 'Monza' stage.
The Italian extended his lead with victory on SS4 as Tony Cairoli became his nearest challenger and then consolidated his top spot in SS5 despite finishing the stage fourth fastest overall.
The MotoGP star pulled out a further seven seconds over Cairoli with his second stage win of the day and cemented his place at the top by finishing four seconds ahead of his closest rival on SS7.
Assuming Rossi avoids any mechanical nightmares and keeps his car out of the barriers the 36-year-old is on course to secure his fourth career victory at Monza, having also won in 2006, 2007 and 2012, and says he enjoys returning to the event which he feels is like an end of season party.
“Monza is always a great moment and a great way to finish the season because I get great enjoyment from it this year and this year I am in front so I am happy,” Rossi said. “For a long, long time I've returned to this rally because I like this event.
“You have the thrill of the race but less pressure than in MotoGP so I can enjoy it. I can drive this car which is fantastic. Also in our team we have Brivio and Uccio, so it always good fun.”