Elfyn Evans put in a committed performance on Sunday morning’s opening stage to dash any hopes Thierry Neuville had of overhauling him for second on Rally Italy.
Evans was some 11 seconds faster than his Hyundai rival on Arzachena – Braniatogghiu and 3.5s faster than the returning Ott Tänak to record his third stage win of the weekend.
The Welshman now has a 33.7s gap over Neuville in third place.
“Obviously I wanted to make sure there was no late charge from Neuville, so at least that makes things a bit easier,” Evans said.
Neuville confessed to having a bit of a “smooth drive” but suggested his ultimate pace was unlikely to be as high as Evans’.
“Anyhow it’s the same story everyday,” he said. “I’m not able to go much faster without taking more risks. I can’t keep the car in the line. I can’t.”
His Hyundai team-mate Tänak attacked more than might have been expected as his sole goal today is to claim maximum powerstage points.
The 2019 world champion, who retired from the lead yesterday with a mechanical for the second rally in a row, said at stage-end: “Let’s say for sure I didn’t sleep well, it is like it is.”
Sébastien Ogier inherited that lead on Saturday and is holding onto it handsomely, heading Evans by 34.1s overall. He was third fastest on SS17, 4.8s slower than his team-mate.
Teemu Suninen was again the first car onto the stages on Sunday morning. He described SS17 as “quite interesting.” and that it’s “quite technical at the beginning, slow with some loose gravel and the last part is really, really fast”.
His time was unfortunately not really fast though as he battled with road cleaning, losing 12.3s to his M-Sport team-mate Gus Greensmith who had a “bit of hesitation in my notes, things weren’t quite syncing”.
Kalle Rovanperä was one of three drivers who opted to take things incredibly steady in a bid to score as many powerstage points as he possibly can.
“Yeah for sure we need to save the tires for there,” he said. “Let’s try to get a good feeling for the powerstage.”
He was 1m01.1s slower than the stage winner Evans on just a 9.48-mile test.
Dani Sordo employed a similar tactic but was still 33.4s faster than Rovanperä. The idea will be for him to deny the Toyota drivers from taking bonus points on the powerstage.
“We need to try to take some point in the powerstage, it’s all we can do,” confessed Sordo.
Fourth-placed Takamoto Katsuta was the third driver to back off, although he did have a wasp for company in the cockpit of his Toyota.
“It’s OK, all fine,” he said. “I had a slow drive, that’s it.”
Mads Østberg’s mission to regain the WRC2 lead he lost on Saturday when he incurred a time penalty bore fruit on SS7 as he surged past Jari Huttunen into fifth place overall.
The defending WRC2 Champion beat the reigning WRC3 Champion – who has now stepped up to WRC2 – by 7.9s to assume a 5.2s lead at the head of the class in his Citroën.
Pepe López took 14.2s out of Yohan Rossel’s WRC3 lead on Sunday’s opener, but it’s still Rossel who leads the pack and sits in seventh place overall. Jan Solans is 10.9s adrift of his compatriot López, while Marco Bulacia holds 10th overall and third in WRC2.
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) 8m45.4s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +3.5s
3 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +4.8s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +11.0s
5 Gus Greensmith/Stuart Loudon (Ford) +14.1s
6 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) +24.2s
Leading positions after SS17
1 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) 2h59m23.3s
2 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +34.1s
3 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1m07.8s
4 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +4m42.1s
5 Østberg/Eriksen (Citroën) +8m31.7s
6 Jari Huttunen/Mikko Lukka (Hyundai) +8m36.9s
7 Yohan Rossel/Alexandre Coria (Citroën) +9m32.6s
8 Pepe López/David Vallejo (Škoda) +9m56.2s
9 Jan Solans/Rodrigo Sanjuan (Citroën) +10m07.1s
10 Marco Bulacia/Marcelo Ohannesian (Škoda) +10m35.0s