Kris Meeke was in second place heading into the signature stage of the Sanremo Rally last night.
The 30-mile Rendo stage in darkness through the Italian Alps was expected to be crucial in deciding the outcome of round 10 of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
Reigning champion and last year’s Sanremo winner Meeke held the lead through the first three stages yesterday before slipping to third behind local hero Paulo Andreucci and championship leader Juho Hanninen when his Peugeot’s front tyres degraded through stage four.
But Meeke, benefiting from a uprated S2000 Peugeot 207 this weekend, bounced back on the fifth stage to regain second, eight seconds behind the Peugeot of Andreucci and two ahead of the Skoda of Hanninen.
But local knowledge of the mountain stages was paying off for two more Italians, Giandomenico Basso and Luca Rossetti, who were fourth and fifth in their Abarth Puntos, pushing Peugeot's Bryan Bouffier down to sixth.
Freddy Loix was back in seventh and admitting that the level of competition was particularly high in Italy.
His fellow factory Skoda driver and title contender Jan Kopecky was eighth while Guy Wilks was ninth in the Skoda UK Fabia.
There was disappointment for Meeke’s fellow Ulsterman Niall McShea whose Proton suffered engine failure on the way to the first stage. The second Proton of Gilles Panizzi was in 20th place.