Dani Sordo will start the final six stages of Giru di Corsica-Tour de Corse firmly in contention for a debut victory in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge following a day of high drama on the demanding asphalt roads around Corte in the centre of the picturesque Mediterranean island.
Sordo, in a MINI John Cooper Works S2000, left the overnight halt in Calvi trailing defending IRC champion Andreas Mikkelsen by 1.8s but is now in front by a margin of more than 25 seconds over factory Skoda driver Jan Kopecky.
Local hero Pierre Campana and French ace Bryan Bouffier are close behind in their Peugeot 207 S2000s in what is shaping up to be a thrilling battle for the remaining podium places.
For a while it looked as though Sordo would be unable to contain his Skoda UK Motorsport rival when Mikkelsen went fastest on Friday's first test to open up an advantage of 7.2s starting the 24.57-kilometre Erbajolo-Pont d'Altiani stage.
But Mikkelsen would manage barely two kilometres of the run before his hopes of an elusive maiden IRC win on asphalt were shattered when he took a left-hand bend too quickly, slid into a ditch and struck a wooden telegraph pole, which punctured a tyre and cued an agonising delay while he and co-driver Ola Fløene worked to change the damaged wheel. They lost more ground when the jack failed.
And just to compound Mikkelsen's frustration, a right-rear puncture on Friday's final stage caused further delay.
“It's not been my day today – I'll just have to come back stronger tomorrow,” said the Norwegian, who is fifth overall following stage eight, which was halted when Jean-Dominique Mattei's privateer Fabia became engulfed in flames after he and co-driver Patrick Scipilitti abandoned the burning car, fortunately without injury.
There were no such problems for Sordo, who drove without fault on his first appearance in Corsica since 2008.
“I was not so confident on the first stage with my pacenotes and the set-up but the car was incredible in the afternoon and I'm very happy with my day,” said the Spanish driver.
Kopecky moved ahead of Campana on stage four and began to pull clear as the Corsican was slowed with a gearbox tulip issue and a driveshaft glitch. But a determined display by Campana during the afternoon stages has kept him firmly in the fight for second place. Bouffier, meanwhile, found the set-up of his Peugeot more to his liking today but admitted he was struggling with illness.
Mathieu Arzeno started Friday's closing run in a solid fifth place but a suspected differential fault on the last stage left his Peugeot stranded by the side of the road for almost five minutes. He slips to twelfth as a result. In contrast, his Saintéloc Racing team-mate Craig Breen has performed heroically to charge up from 23rd to seventh in the space of five stages after the driveshaft failure that slowed him on day one.