Hayden Paddon managed to hold off Sebastien Ogier and even eke out his Rally Italia Sardegna lead ever so slightly on Saturday morning's loop of five stages.
Paddon, who impressively finished the opening leg 8.8 seconds up on the Frenchman, again performed well this morning in his Hyundai i20 WRC, making the most of his better road position and setting a string of top-three times, including going second in SS13 and SS14.
It means he now heads back to service with his lead very much intact, with 9.3 seconds separating him from Ogier.
“It has been really, really good,” Paddon said at the finish of the loop. “Obviously we have had an advantage with the road position, but Seb has an advantage in terms of knowledge. I expect the stages to be quite rough this afternoon – like they were on Friday [on the repeats]. Getting to the finish remains our priority.”
Meanwhile, Ogier admitted he made a small mistake at the end of SS13 and at the start of SS15, but was nevertheless happy with his morning.
“The car is fine, all is okay,” reported the Volkswagen driver. “I made a mistake at the start [of SS15]: I lost maybe a second because I was much too far off the line on a left-hander. My notes were not really good. This morning has been good though and all in all I am happy for what we have done.”
Ott Tanak now finds himself third in his M-Sport Fiesta Rs WRC, 59.6s adrift of Ogier and 1m 21.7s up on Citroen's Mads Ostberg, who in turn is just 7.8s ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala.
“The feeling has been better than yesterday. The stages have more of a flow which suits us a bit better and I think we've been able to continue at a good, solid speed,” Tanak said. “We had a few little set-backs with a slow puncture at the end of SS12 which meant we had to use the softs for SS13 and a spin at the start of SS14, but I'm really starting to enjoy myself out there.
“We can't think too much about the position at the moment though. We just have to think about our own driving and remain positive.”
Ostberg and Latvala also had punctures, with the latter losing over 2 minutes in SS13 when he had to stop and change it. Latvala had been running in P3, 14.5 seconds behind Ogier prior to that.
“We came over a jump and landed a bit sideways and the tyre came off the rim - perhaps there was too much load on the tyre,” said Latvala. “I wasn't sure if it was just something wrong with the damper, so I drove for a while. Then I realised it was time to stop.”
“I have to keep fighting, that's all I can do,” added the Finn, who was quickest in three of the morning's five tests in his Polo R WRC. “I wasn't in a good mood earlier because of the puncture, but the car is OK which is good. I will keep pushing.”
Behind, Hyundai's Thierry Neuville is sixth, losing time with no power steering after SS13 and with a slight off in the following test.
Then comes M-Sport's Elfyn Evans with WRC2 runners Paolo Andreucci, Yuriy Protasov and Yazeed Al-Rajhi filling positions 8 through to 10. Andreucci currently leads the principal support class by 36.7 seconds.
“It's been going much better for us today,” said Evans. “We've had some respectable stage times, but we are still struggling in some of the trickier places. It's definitely an improvement on yesterday, which is important, but I know there is more to come.
“I think tyre wear could be a bit more of an issue this afternoon so it will be good to get some experience of that and we'll perhaps try to drive a bit smoother.”
In terms of retirements, Andreas Mikkelsen and Dani Sordo both retired again this morning, having re-joined under Rally 2, along with the likes of Kris Meeke and Robert Kubica. Mikkelsen lost a wheel in SS13, while Sordo was unable to start SS14 due to a technical issue.
Rally Italia Sardegna now continues with repeat runs through four of this morning's five tests. SS16, the short Ittiri Arena 2 test, is scheduled to start at 15.02 hours local time. Full itinerary for round six in WRC 2015 available - HERE
2015 Rally Italia Sardegna: Overall standings after Stage 15 (Top 10):
1. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC 2h 47m 26.5s
2. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +0m 09.3s
3. Ott Tanak
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 08.9s
4. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +2m 30.6s
5. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +2m 38.4s
6. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +3m 46.6s
7. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +4m 59.2s
8. Paolo Andreucci
Peugeot 208 T16 +8m 56.5
9. Yuriy Protasov
Ford Fiesta RRC +9m 33.2s
10. Yazeed Al-Rajhi
Ford Fiesta RRC +9m 54.6s
11. Jan Kopecky
Skoda Fabia R5 +11m 36.6s
12. Khalid Al Qassimi
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +13m 03.0s
13. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari
Ford Fiesta RRC +13m 36.9s
14. Armin Kremer
Skoda Fabia R5 +14m 23.2s
WRC2 standings after Stage 15 (Top 3):
1. Paolo Andreucci
Peugeot 208 T16 2h 56m 23.0
2. Yuriy Protasov
Ford Fiesta RRC +0m 36.7s
3. Yazeed Al-Rajhi
Ford Fiesta RRC +0m 58.1s
SS2. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC Suspension
SS3. Robert Kubica
Ford Fiesta RS WRC Accident
SS4/SS5. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC Suspension
SS10. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Lost in a wheel in final test – retired on road section afterwards
SS10. Lorenzo Bertelli
Ford Fiesta RS WRC Oil leak
SS11/12. Lorenzo Bertelli
Ford Fiesta RS WRC Oil leak
SS13. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC Lost a wheel
SS13/14. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Technical issue
SS13/14. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC Unknown
*denotes re-started under Rally 2 on Saturday
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial