Andreas Mikkelsen holds a 14-second lead over Hyundai World Rally Championship team-mate Thierry Neuville after winning two of Friday morning’s four stages on Rally Italy.
Mikkelsen took six soft tyres aboard his i20 Coupe WRC and made the most of them in the damp conditions to win the second stage by 9.1 seconds.
Finally feeling at home in the car after a difficult season so far, the Norwegian also won the following stage to complete the morning at the head of the field.
Neuville was the first man on the road, but overnight rain eradicated the disadvantage of sweeping away the loose gravel.
He confessed to pushing hard and won the final stage of the morning loop by three seconds to overhaul the Toyota of Ott Tanak.
Tanak was the other driver to take a stage win but he struggled to find any confidence with the Yaris after suggesting the front-end of the car was understeering. The Estonian is 16.4 seconds away from the lead after five stages.
Teemu Suninen and Sebastien Ogier lie fourth and fifth respectively for M-Sport, with the two Fords separated by just 0.1 seconds.
Suninen was unhappy with his driving in the slow first and second gear corners but ended the loop ahead of his world champion team-mate who was at a loss to explain his lack of speed.
Jari-Matti Latvala was another driver lacking confidence on Friday morning. The Toyota driver has retired from the last three rallies, but heads to service sixth overall after overtaking Mads Ostberg in the order on stage five.
Ostberg completed Friday’s opening stage second fastest but his pace in his Citroen C3 began to fade as the morning wore on. The Norwegian cited his road position as a major factor to his time loss.
Hayden Paddon lies eighth overall on just his third rally of the season, suffering the opposite fortune to team-mate Neuville with the wet conditions ruining any advantage he may have had further down the running order.
Craig Breen is ninth in his Citroen C3 after an overshoot on the second stage, ahead of Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi – who suffered a slow puncture on the following stage.
With just one spare tyre remaining, the Finn was forced to drive conservatively for the rest of the morning.
M-Sport’s Elfyn Evans dropped the most time on the morning loop, losing 13 minutes on the second stage with a broken steering arm.
Evans ran wide on a slow right-hander and was forced to stop and change the component.
Follow updates from Rally Italy’s Friday afternoon stages from 2pm UK time with Autosport Live
Leading positions after SS4
|1||Andreas Mikkelsen, A.Jager||Hyundai Motorsport||Hyundai||40m14.0s|
|2||Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||14.2s|
|3||Thierry Neuville, N.Gilsoul||Hyundai Motorsport||Hyundai||18.2s|
|4||Teemu Suninen, M.Markkula||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||19.8s|
|5||Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||24.2s|
|6||Mads Ostberg, T.Eriksen||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||24.9s|
|7||Jari-Matti Latvala, M.Anttila||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||25.1s|
|8||Hayden Paddon, S.Marshall||Hyundai Motorsport||Hyundai||29.9s|
|9||Craig Breen, S.Martin||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||32.2s|
|10||Esapekka Lappi, J.Ferm||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||35.3s|