A storming drive through the gruelling 44-kilometre Ronde night stage put Giandomenico Basso 25.6secs clear in the battle for victory on the legendary Rallye Sanremo, the penultimate round of the 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
Basso, in a turbocharged M-Sport Ford Fiesta RRC, was fastest through Friday's opening stage, which was damp in places, by 4.2secs. Although he couldn't match Jan Kopecký's speed through the dry second test, he was quickest again on the damp third run, which was also affected by patches of fog, to take a lead of 12.7secs into Ronde. By completing the closing stage 12.9secs faster than his Škoda Fabia Super 2000-mounted rival, Basso holds a comfortable advantage heading to the overnight halt in Sanremo.
“We knew our lead before Ronde was not enough, but the stage was very long and difficult,” Basso admitted, “We had some brake problems and I think the tyre compound was too soft for the dry, but we manage well and the important thing is we got through.”
Kopecký suggested the extra torque available to Basso had given the Italian the edge when the road was damp. The Czech had been in a close fight for second with Paolo Andreucci until the Peugeot 207 S2000 pilot went for a cautious approach through Ronde in the knowledge that finishing the rally will make him Italian champion for a seventh time after rival Umberto Scandola hit trouble this afternoon.
Scandola had been expected to run at the front in his Škoda Italia entry but a bent axle, caused when he swiped a metal retaining barrier five kilometres into stage one, led to a 40-second delay. It got worse on the next stage when his ill-handling car struck another barrier and forced his exit after he had stopped to change a puncture caused by the damaged component.
Alessandro Perico, who was slowed by an intercom glitch on stage three, climbs to third with Stefano Albertini fourth in a similar Peugeot. Last year's IRC 2WD Cup runner-up was 2.0secs slower than Basso through stage three, but was slowed on stage four when a front driveshaft failed five kilometres from the stage finish. Juho Hänninen, whose eleven wins in the IRC is a record, was fourth starting the stage but crashed out in his factory Fabia.
Craig Breen, who is fifth after four stages, said simply completing the opening loop represented a major achievement on his first start in the IRC since the accident that claimed the life of his best friend, and former co-driver, Gareth Roberts on Targa Florio-Rally Internazionale di Sicilia in June.
Meanwhile, Pierre Campana reported brake problems and a lack of grip in the afternoon before a broken rear differential two kilometres into Ronde caused considerable delay. Frigyes Turán reached the end of the run in eighth place albeit with the engine in his Petter Solberg
Engineering Fiesta overheating. Harry Hunt was ninth after the first stage, but a costly puncture on stage two has dropped the young Briton down the order in his Kronos Racing 207.
Renault Mégane RS driver Federico Gasperetti heads title leader Robert Consani in the IRC Production Cup section with Marco Cavigioli third. Marco Tempestini was sixth after the first stage but withdrew due to illness soon afterwards. Simone Campedelli tops the IRC 2WD Cup ahead of Roberto Vescovi in a Renault Clio R3. Bryan Bouffier is the leading R2 contender in his Peugeot 208, which is being given its competition debut in Sanremo. The Frenchman is sixth in class.
Saturday's action consists of six stages over a competitive distance of 118.92 kilometres.