Sebastien Ogier has moved into the lead on Rally Italia Sardegna on Saturday afternoon's repeat loop, with Hayden Paddon slipping to second and having to patch-up his Hyundai after hitting a rock in the penultimate test.
Ogier had finished the morning 9.3 seconds off Paddon, but in the first 'proper' stage of the afternoon, the repeat-run through the 22.49 km Monti di Ala 2 test, the Frenchman surged ahead, setting the quickest time, 21.6 seconds up on Paddon.
Ogier then continued to gain ground in SS18 and SS19, eventually concluding the leg with a commanding 2 minute 13.6 second advantage.
“It has been two fantastic days for me,” said the Volkswagen man, who been hindered by his road position. “I never said leading was impossible, but I knew my chances were very small. A lot of things have happened today. It's been a very rough rally and a rough afternoon.”
Speaking back in service, he added: "It was a very long and difficult day in the cockpit, but I'm happy with how things went. I only made a minor error in the morning, when I almost stalled the car in a hairpin bend on the 13th stage, otherwise it went pretty much perfectly. My aim was to take the lead at the end of the day, and I'm happy that it worked out. It was hard work since Hayden Paddon gave as good as he got for a long time. The track conditions were also extremely difficult, which always threatened tyre damage. Now we are holding all the aces for the final day. And we want to defend our position to the end."
Meanwhile, in the end Paddon was just relieved to get through and after suffering a spin in SS17, he then hit a rock in SS18 and had to make temporary repairs to the front of his car. Fortunately they held and he was able to limp through SS19, ending the day still well on course for a podium, over a minute up on Mads Ostberg in third.
“I thought it was all gone in the last one [SS18] when we hit a big rock in the line and broke part of the drivetrain,” Paddon admitted.
“We strapped it up as best we could but coming into this stage I thought it was all over. I don't want to be a drama queen but it ripped my heart out...”
“We expected today to be a tougher day than yesterday but I didn't expect it to be such a dramatic end," he continued later on. "We started with the same approach as yesterday and I was surprised that we were able to extend our lead of the rally by lunchtime. The car felt good and we made the most of our starting position but we knew the afternoon would be rougher.
"We lost the lead when we had a spin in SS17 but we then broke the gearbox mount, which I thought would be the end of the rally for us. We persevered and took a cautious approach. Thankfully we made it through to hold onto second place with a buffer, so tomorrow we will look to secure the podium result, which would be an amazing result. It's not over yet, so we have to keep focused on the job in hand.”
Behind, Ostberg had his own dramas in his Citroen DS 3 WRC and joked he was struggling to keep up with how many punctures he had suffered. He was still second quickest in SS17, however, and quickest in SS18, before suffering another puncture in SS19.
“A slow puncture again. Earlier it was a valve coming out. Maybe that's happened again. Maybe just bad luck,” he pondered after the final test of the day.
Quizzed on if he can challenge for second, he replied: “I'm not thinking about it. I'm doing my own thing - just trying to keep track of my punctures!”
Thierry Neuville is next up in his Hyundai, 31.4s back, and over a minute up on M-Sport's Elfyn Evans in fifth.
“It has been a difficult day, we had some problems but so has everyone,” Neuville remarked. “I tried to be careful and avoid them but that is what it is. In this one [SS19] I did about 10kms in the dust, it was still drivable. I can be happy with my driving.”
“It has ended OK, no risks here,” Evans added. “We have been careful and just looked at the drama all around. It has been a long and tough day but there has been some progress. The rhythm that we found at the beginning of the year has not quite come back, but hopefully it will.”
Jari-Matti Latvala lies sixth and after losing over 2 minutes in SS13 with a puncture this morning, he then conceded more time on the repeat loop with broken left rear damper – possibly the result of hitting a rock in SS17. In total it cost him over 5 minutes.
“I can smile because we managed to do so many kilometres with broken suspension and we should still finish in the top six,” he noted.
Of the rest, WRC2 runners Yuriy Protasov, Paolo Andreucci, Jan Kopecky and Yazeed Al-Rajhi hold positions 7 through to 10. Protasov took over the class lead in SS18, when Andreucci had to stop after the tailgate opened. He now lies 7 seconds ahead.
In terms of retirements, M-Sport's Ott Tanak was probably the most noticeable, with the Estonian sidelined in SS17 by transmission problems. He had been on course for third overall.
Fellow Ford runner Robert Kubica also stopped in that test – or rather just after it – while this morning's loop claimed Martin Prokop and Rally 2 runners, Andreas Mikkelsen, Dani Sordo and Lorenzo Bertelli.
Kris Meeke did get through day two, but having re-joined after his early exit on Friday is running well down, outside the top-25.
Rally Italia Sardegna now concludes on Sunday, with four stages on the bill and a total competitive distance of 45.80km. SS20, the 11.13km Olmedo Monte Baranta 1 test, is scheduled to start at 08.16 hours local time. Full itinerary for round six in WRC 2015 available - HERE
2015 Rally Italia Sardegna: Overall standings after Stage 19 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 3h 54m 43.9s
2. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +2m 13.6s
3. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +3m 25.6s
4. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +3m 57.0s
5. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +5m 15.5s
6. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +8m 08.6s
7. Yuriy Protasov
Ford Fiesta RRC +13m 32.4s
8. Paolo Andreucci
Peugeot 208 T16 +13m 39.4
9. Jan Kopecky
Skoda Fabia R5 +15m 30.8s
10. Yazeed Al-Rajhi
Ford Fiesta RRC +16m 28.8s
11. Khalid Al Qassimi
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +17m 07.4s
12. Nicolas Fuchs
Ford Fiesta R5 +19m 38.9s
13. Armin Kremer
Skoda Fabia R5 +19m 46.3s
14. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari
Ford Fiesta RRC +19m 55.6s
WRC2 standings after Stage 19 (Top 3):
1. Yuriy Protasov
Ford Fiesta RRC 4h 08m 16.3s
2. Paolo Andreucci
Peugeot 208 T16 +0m 07.0
3. Jan Kopecky
Skoda Fabia R5 +1m 58.4s
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
SS17. Robert Kubica
Ford Fiesta RS WRC Gearbox
SS17. Ott Tanak
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Transmission
*denotes re-started under Rally 2 on Saturday
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial