Thierry Neuville has closed to within just 0.1 seconds of Sébastien Ogier in second place as Rally Italy leader Dani Sordo responded to the alarm call Neuville and Ogier sent him on Sunday morning.
Sordo’s lead was almost halved on the preceding test as Ogier and Neuville’s scrap over second place intensified and looked to create a three-way fight for the rally win to the end.
But Sordo was better on SS14, losing just 0.8s to Neuville and beating Ogier on the stage to actually extend his lead again to 16.1s.
“I was really, really bad in the stage before. We can’t sleep,” he said, content that he’d found more pace.
Neuville had ceded 0.2s to stage winner Ogier on Cala Flumini to start Sassari – Argentiera with a 1.7s deficit; something he was determined to avenge.
“I give it everything,” he said. “I don’t know how I could do more to be honest. It was a tricky stage but I kept it flat out but hopefully it’s enough.”
Whether or not it was enough depends on what perspective you choose to take. Neuville’s Hyundai was 1.6s quicker than Ogier’s Toyota on the 4.21-mile stage but with a 1.7s overall deficit, he is still third. But only just.
“There was a little mistake near the end where it was not perfect line but it’s always challenging in there,” Ogier said.
Teemu Suninen lost more time to fourth-placed Elfyn Evans, although his time loss wasn’t as severe as the near-20s he dropped on SS13.
The M-Sport driver surrendered 5.3s to Evans to trial by 33s with two stages of the rally remaining.
“Not really,” Suninen said, when asked if anything had been wrong on Sunday morning. “We tried our best and it wasn’t enough.”
Evans was content that his job was done, but he’ll secretly be hoping that team-mate Ogier doesn’t climb any more positions as that would further erode a championship lead which is currently set to diminish on Sunday.
“Obviously now it’s just a case of getting through cleanly, so all OK in here,” he commented.
Sassari – Argentiera was briefly interrupted when Takamoto Katsuta violently crashed out of the rally, clipping a bank with the rear of his Toyota that pitched him skywards and into a series of rolls.
The Yaris WRC landed facing the wrong way on the stage, and it took a few minutes for the marshals to push the car to safety.
Unfortunately for Gus Greensmith, Katsuta’s crash handed him the road sweeping role for the stage but he still managed to outpace seventh-placed Pierre-Louis Loubet by 5.4s in the 4.21 miles.
Ott Tänak remains sixth but put in a decent performance on SS14 – a dress rehearsal for the points-paying powerstage later on.
“Not so much grip but I tried to do a good run. For the moment I can’t do much more but the second loop will be different for sure,” he said, referencing the trickier stage conditions he faced than others as third car on the road.
Jari Huttunen and Kajetan Kajetanowicz are locked in an intense fight for WRC3 honors and occupy eighth and ninth overall on the leaderboard.
Kajetanowicz began the day 10.5s adrift of the class lead but has narrowed that to just 5.5s with the repeat pass of Sunday’s stages remaining. He’ll need to find another 0.5s across the loop if he wants to wrestling the win away from Huttunen.
Pontus Tidemand is 10th and leading WRC2 in his Toksport-prepared Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo but has been outgunned by Ole Christian Veiby, who has slashed the gap between the pair in first and second from 1m04.3s at the start of the day to 33.7s.
Birthday boy Mads Østberg – who was robbed of a shot at victory with just two-wheel-drive on four of Friday’s stages – proved what might have been by winning SS13 by 18.3s and SS14 by 5.3s. But his time loss on the opening day was so significant that he’s still 2m36.9s down on the leader.
1 Neuville (Hyundai) 4m51.3s
2 Sordo (Hyundai) +0.8s
3 Ogier (Toyota) +1.6s
4 Evans (Toyota) +5.6s
5 Tänak (Hyundai) +6.6s
6 Suninen (M-Sport) +10.9s
Leading positions after SS14
1 Sordo (Hyundai) 2h28m15.2s
2 Ogier (Toyota) +16.1s
3 Neuville (Hyundai) +16.2s
4 Evans (Toyota) +55.9s
5 Suninen (M-Sport Ford) +1m28.9s
6 Tänak (Hyundai) +2m31.2s
7 Loubet (2C Competition Hyundai) +4m18.3s
8 Huttunen (Hyundai) +7m50.0s
9 Kajetanowicz (Škoda) +7m55.5s
10 Tidemand (Škoda) +9m15.9s