Officials threw the red flag to suspend Stage 17 to allow the recovery of Adrien Fourmaux’s stricken M-sport Ford Puma after the Frenchman ran off the road and crashed out of fifth position. The crew emerged from the incident unscathed.
Third-placed Dani Sordo was first to come across the incident. The Hyundai driver then squeezed by the stricken Puma that had partially blocked the road and completed the stage at a reduced speed and will receive a notional time.
Organisers elected to restart the stage but it appeared a marshal erroneously showed a red flag, resulting in Breen and Tanak slowing to a crawl.
Fourth-placed Pierre-Louis Loubet, who was ahead of Breen and Tanak on the road, completed the stage at normal speed to add to the confusion. It is unclear if the M-sport driver was shown the red flag.
It is expected national times will be awarded to Breen and Tanak, but organisers are yet to confirm the overall classification for the day. Championship leader Kalle Rovanpera and Toyota team-mate Takamoto Katsuta will however inherit fifth and sixth positions following Fourmaux’s crash.
A brief statement from an FIA spokesperson read: “After the stage restarted following Fourmaux’s accident crews were shown a red flag and the FIA is investigation the incident.”
Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, M-sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1
Photo by: M-sport
The afternoon had begun with crews facing incredibly hot conditions in the afternoon with the ambient temperatures hitting more than 35 degrees on top of the already increased cockpit temperatures.
The heat failed to distract Tanak as he swept to his fourth consecutive stage win on Stage 14 after setting a searing pace in his i20 N, despite battling an engine issue.
Tanak emerged 6.2s faster than an improving Kalle Rovanpera to extend his lead over Breen to 37.2s as the latter was forced to drive around a problem with his Puma.
Loubet stepped up his assault on third overall by taking 2.3s out of rival Sordo.
Behind, a soft front left tyre cost Fourmaux 34s dropping as he began to fall into the clutches of Rovanpera in the battle for fifth overall.
Tanak was once again in command on Stage 15 as he notched up his sixth stage win of the rally to increase his lead to 45.0s over Breen as the Irishman dropped 7.8s.
Breen had been battling issue but gave nothing away when quizzed at the stage end.
“The giggling pin fell out of the laughing shaft but I managed to get it back in, so we are okay,” he joked when asked about the problem.
Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
Sordo survived a scare 300 metres from the stage end when his i20 N briefly hooked into a ditch on the slippery gravel. However, the Spaniard somehow wrestled the car back to clock the second fastest stage time to move within 12s of Breen.
Katsuta, like Breen, was also managing a radiator issue with his GR Yaris and lost 30s on the test.
The second pass through the afternoon stages saw Tanak remain in unbeaten as he topped the times on Stage 16.
Tanak admitted he wasn’t pushing but was still able to take a second out of Breen to deny the Ford driver a second stage win of the event.
Sordo rode his luck again after his i20 N took a big gulp of water at the water splash and briefly stalled. On this occasion he only lost 1.6s to Loubet in the fight for third.
Evans suffered a far more serious issue as the left rear suspension collapsed on his GR Yaris which put him tint retirement for the second time in as many days. The Welshman tried to keep going before pulling off onto an access road.
Toyota team-mate Katsuta continued to lose time as he carefully nursed his wounded GR Yaris to the finish.
Rally Sardinia is set to host four more stages on Sunday.