Freddy Loix will head the pack going into the second and final day of Rallye Sanremo, although with little more than two seconds covering the top two drivers on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge event, it looks like there will be a thrilling battle for the victory.
Skoda UK Motorsport's Andreas Mikkelsen was leading right up until the 44-kilometre Ronde night stage on Friday, the last test of the leg. However he couldn't stave off the flying Loix, who moved into top spot by going 7.2s faster than Mikkelsen in his BFO-Skoda Rally Team Fabia Super 2000.
The Belgian, who turns 41 in November, admitted to making a sluggish start to the rally and was down in seventh after the opening stage. But he quickly picked up his pace and set a brace of fastest stage times before he went quickest again on Friday night's final test.
“I lost a bit of time in the first stage like I always do but after I took back some time and it's going very well,” Loix said. “The last stage was very difficult but my time was good so I am quite happy.”
Mikkelsen, who was heading for victory on the previous round in Hungary only to crash out on the penultimate stage, was the first driver to tackle the night stage and his added caution ultimately cost him the overnight lead. However, an error-free drive and four fastest stage times marked an impressive opening day for the 22-year-old.
“The last stage was really, really tough. We were struggling in there but we could have gone faster. But it's been a really good day leading from the first stage. I have nothing to complain about,” Mikkelsen noted.
Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg's Thierry Neuville had been in contention for victory until overheating brakes slowed him down on Ronde. As a result he's 16.6s off the lead in third position heading into day two.
“My time in the last stage was not so good because the brakes overheated,” he confirmed. “I destroyed my tyres on stage five by losing too much in the downhill first part and then attacking too much in the uphill part.”
Peugeot France's Bryan Bouffier is fourth overnight after a solid day in his Peugeot France 207.
Jan Kopecky, who started the event with a 17-point lead in the title standings, said he was at a loss to explain his lack of pace in his factory Skoda after completing day one in fifth overall, 34.2s behind leader and title rival Loix.