Elfyn Evans stole the lead of the Monza Rally back from Sébastien Ogier once again as the rally returned to the circuit-style stages.
Evans trailed Ogier by 5.2 seconds after Saturday morning, but a day earlier had faced a similar deficit before taking time back from Ogier when the rally returned from the mountains to the racetrack.
History repeated itself as Evans went 5.5s faster than Ogier to leapfrog into a 0.3s lead. As it stands, however, Ogier is still on course to win an eighth World Rally Championship title.
“I struggled, but that’s all OK,” Ogier commented at stage-end, having gone fifth fastest.
Dani Sordo was second on Sottozero, 1.1s shy of Evans’ effort. He went 0.2s faster than Neuville to keep the Ypres and Spain winner at arm’s length with an 18.7s cushion.
Neuville’s Hyundai is back in full working order following his skirmish with an Armco barrier in the Bergamo mountains, but his quest to reclaim a podium place is looking complicated given his team-mate Sordo’s pace.
“It’s hard to make a big difference in there,” he said.
Takamoto Katsuta’s circuit pace was strong, just as it had been on Friday and in 2020 as well. The Toyota junior, lying in sixth, closed to 14s behind Oliver Solberg with a time that was 3.3s faster.
However he was convinced he should have clawed back more with a moment that wasn’t caught by the TV cameras.
“We lost more than four seconds for sure, we went off the track section,” explained Katsuta. “That was a big mistake.”
Solberg meanwhile was left to rue his first couple of corners, which he claimed he “missed completely”, and he also suggested the gearshift problem he experienced on Friday hadn’t totally vanished.
In another developing battle behind the Katsuta/Solberg scrap, Gus Greensmith took 2.6s from Teemu Suninen, making advances on Suninen’s seventh place by reducing his deficit to 7.9s.
Greensmith was on course to take even more time away from the Hyundai driver but a stall at a hairpin late on the stage cost him valuable seconds.
“It’s a bit annoying because that would’ve been another two seconds out of the gap,” Greensmith said. “But everything feels a bit better now, better than the morning.”
Adrien Fourmaux was caught out on the first braking zone and overshot a square-right, contesting his first circuit stage since Thursday evening’s shakedown test.
The M-Sport driver still managed to outpace Suninen though by 1.1s – the Hyundai driver continuing to struggle on the circuit tests in his new car.
“It was better than yesterday but not good, I need to work on these type of stages,” said Suninen.
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) 9m10.9s
2 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai) +1.1s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1.3s
4 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +3.8s
5 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +5.5s
6 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai) +8.1s
Leading positions after SS12
1 Evans/Martin 2h04m14.6s
1 Ogier/Ingrassia +0.3s
3 Sordo/Carrera +29.3s
4 Neuville/Wydaeghe +48s
5 Solberg/Edmondson +1m20.6s
6 Katsuta/Johnston +1m34.6s
7 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Hyundai) +2m11.5s
8 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +2m19.4s
9 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Haltunnen (Toyota) +3m30.7s
10 Yohan Rossel/Jacques-Julien Renucci (Citroën) +7m45.8s