Skoda's Juho Hanninen leads the Prime Yalta Rally following an action-packed second day in Ukraine.
With three different leaders and three different stage winners, the Intercontinental Rally Challenge thrilled the thousands of fans who flocked to the sun-baked stages in the country's Crimea region. And with Friday's demanding asphalt stages being run in reverse on Saturday, the prospects are for another day of drama.
Behind Hanninen, in a Skoda Motorsport Fabia Super 2000, Bryan Bouffier is second for Peugeot France with Jan Kopecky completing the top three in the second factory Fabia.
Crews tackled three repeated all-asphalt stages to the west of the event base in Yalta, split by a midday service in the city. Although there was no rain, overnight precipitation left some roads damp, particularly those under tree cover. However, it was the presence of rocks and other debris being dragged onto the road by drivers taking 'cuts' through corners that triggered a succession of punctures and led to several changes to the leaderboard.
Hanninen began day two in eleventh overall following the imposition of a 10-second time penalty for a jumped start on Thursday's second stage. But the combination of several impressive stage times coupled with the delays encountered by several of his rivals, allowed Hanninen to race into the overnight lead courtesy of two back-to-back stage wins on Friday afternoon.
“It's been a good day with no mistakes,” he said. “After service I was getting more confident with the car because it's been a while since I drove on tarmac and was able to push more this afternoon.”
Bouffier led at the midday service halt in Yalta despite a scare on stage five when he caught and passed the course-opening '0' and '00' cars, which had been delayed completing the stage to ensure spectators were standing in safe locations. The incident cost Bouffier valuable seconds in his pursuit of victory. His 207 S2000 also suffered a clutch failure, which had to be replaced – along with the gearbox – in service.
With Hanninen on a charge, Bouffier was unable to maintain top spot over the afternoon stages. However, event officials agreed after viewing onboard camera footage that 4.7s be removed from his total time following his delay on stage five, meaning the gap between he and Hanninen starting the final day will be a mere 8.2s.
“It would be better if I was leading but the car was working very well today,” Bouffier reflected. “I tried my best to beat Juho but he was very fast. I was pleased to have made no mistakes and got no punctures.”
Kopecky had been in touching distance of the leaders but two off-road moments and a powersteering fault held him back. Although he starts day three in a comfortable third place, he is more than one minute behind leader Hanninen.