Elfyn Evans again eked clear of Thierry Neuville on the third stage of Saturday, winning his first test on Rally Italy by 0.2 seconds over team-mate Sébastien Ogier.
Evans edged the Hyundai of Neuville by 1.4s to establish a 10.5s advantage between himself and the fifth-placed Belgian.
He had struggled for confidence and feeling on Friday but admitted “it’s going better for sure” today.
Neuville meanwhile is less comfortable, feeling unable to push to his maximum with a Kenya-spec damper that he doesn’t feel quite right.
“In this stage I pushed a bit more,” he said. “In the ruts the car is more stable so I can go a little bit faster. I’m not sure it’s enough but hopefully we can keep up the pressure on Elfyn.”
Ogier was second fastest on SS11, 0.2s adrift of Evans and 0.1s quicker than rally leader Ott Tänak to marginally trim his deficit to 40.5s.
But perhaps more importantly, he was again quicker than Dani Sordo to consolidate his second place.
“We try to make some gap for the second place [that] would be good, but still a very long way [to go],” he said after beating Sordo by 4.1s on SS11.
The gap Ogier is looking to increase over Sordo currently stands at 6.4s.
“For me I can’t do much better. I’m just flat out. I don’t know, they are too fast,” confessed Sordo.
Tänak meanwhile is taking it conservatively.
“It’s a different job, especially with the roughness,” he said. “We’re scared of the tires so it requires a lot of focus, so fingers crossed.”
Takamoto Katsuta stalled on SS11, one of many he’s suffered this weekend, which cost him some valuable time but he remains a comfortable sixth, confident the big hit over the “helmet-sized” rock on SS10 hadn’t caused any lasting damage to his Toyota.
Kalle Rovanperä was again quickest of the restarting World Rally Cars on SS11, but only by one second over Gus Greensmith who enjoyed a big send on the final hairpin for the “s**** and giggles.”
He added at stage end: “The car this weekend seems to be working a lot better on the second pass, and it’s getting better and better stage by stage so it’s heading in the right direction.”
Greensmith’s M-Sport team-mate Teemu Suninen, who’s the first car onto the stages today, was 5.6s slower than Rovanperä but did take 6.1s from 2C Competition Hyundai’s Pierre-Louis Loubet.
Loubet wasn’t particularly happy though, saying “I am pushing and I am super slow, I don’t understand.”
He is closing down on the overall top 10 following brake issues on Friday’s final two stages. He’s now less than 30s behind Pepe López who is 11th and third in WRC3 behind his two class rivals Yohan Rossel and Jan Solans.
— dirtfishrally (@DirtFishRally) June 5, 2021
Mads Østberg is the leading Rally2 car in seventh overall, but his WRC2 lead looked to be potentially under threat on the previous test as he broke a rear-right brake pipe. But handy repairs – filmed by DirtFish after the stage – looked to have worked as he went quicker than Hyundai rival Jari Huttunen on SS11.
“We have repaired it,” Østberg confirmed, “it seems to be working fine.
“It’s been a little bit of a dramatic morning for us but it feels a bit calmer now, so hopefully everything is fine.”
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) 8m43.2s
2 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +0.2s
3 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +0.3s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1.4s
5 Dani Sordo/Borja Rozada (Hyundai) +4.3s
6 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +10.3s
Leading positions after SS11
1 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) 1h57m15.7s
2 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +40.5s
3 Sordo/Rozada (Hyundai) +46.9s
4 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +1m06.5s
5 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1m17.0s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +2m15.1s
7 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) +5m47.2s
8 Jari Huttunen/Mikko Lukka (Hyundai) +6m15.7s
9 Yohan Rossel/Alexandre Coria (Citroën) +6m53.6s
10 Jan Solans/Rodrigo Sanjuan (Citroën) +7m13.2s