A rear-right puncture for Thierry Neuville has gifted Elfyn Evans fourth place on Friday’s penultimate stage of Rally Italy as Dani Sordo took a second stage win in a row.
Neuville had been settling into a relatively comfortable fourth position with just over 10s to make up to Sébastien Ogier and a similar cushion over the other Toyota of Evans.
But on SS7 Tempio Pausania, Neuville ran his Hyundai marginally wide and clipped something with the rear-right corner. This eventually caused a puncture and forced him to slow, ceding what was a two-second advantage through the first split. In the end, Neuville lost 18.7s to Evans.
Asked how the puncture occurred, Neuville responded: “I don’t know suddenly I felt like we were having a puncture.
“I tried to carry on with the rhythm but there were so many stones in the ruts that the rim was touching all the time, and in the end I struggled with the brakes as something began to bend so I had to slow down a bit.”
Evans actually had his strongest stage of the weekend regardless of Neuville’s mishap, as he edged team-mate Ogier for the first time and doing so by 3s.
Ogier meanwhile is satisfied with what he has achieved thus far. “I do everything I can today,” he said.
“If I’m not in front of Dani [Sordo] it’s not a big deal I would already be happy to be third. Of course Tänak is quite far away but first on the road we have nothing to worry about that, it’s normal.”
Ogier did indeed lose some ground to Sordo again on SS7. Trailing by 3.8s before the test, he was outpaced by 6.5s.
“In the morning with soft tires the car moves a lot. Now I put hard tire on and I feel a bit more confident in myself. I knew a little bit more the stage from previous years so this helps also,” Sordo said.
Tänak was second fastest on SS7, just 0.3s in arrears of Sordo’s effort as he “gambled” with his tires.
“I’m happy they worked, so we can save some softs [for tomorrow],” he explained.
Takamoto Katsuta joked “no stalls, so we must be happy” at the end of his run as the Toyota junior continues to play the long game and just get his car to the end of the rally without any mistakes.
“Very tricky, very easy to hit something so I was quite careful,” Katsuta said after settnig the sixth fastest time.
Gus Greensmith set his most encouraging time of his weekend, 7.5s adrift of Sordo’s stage-winning pace.
“I made a small change coming into this stage which seems to have helped the car be a lot more stable, so I was a lot more comfortable now. So yeah, nicer,” he said.
The M-Sport driver is in a lonely seventh though as Pierre-Louis Loubet behind encountered problems and lost over two-and-a-half minutes completing the stage in road mode.
“We have no brake,” he revealed. “We don’t want to give up. We are lucky to be in a WRC but sometimes we are not lucky.”
1 Dani Sordo/Borja Rozada (Hyundai) 9m48.5s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +0.3s
3 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +3.5s
4 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +6.5s
5 Gus Greensmith/Stuart Loudon (M-Sport Ford) +7.5s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +9.3s
Leading positions after SS7
1 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) 1h15m42.0s
2 Sordo/Rozada (Hyundai) +25.0s
3 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +35.3s
4 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +1m00.4s
5 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1m08.8s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +1m18.3s
7 Greensmith/Loudon (M-Sport Ford) +1m48.2s
8 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) +3m16.4s
9 Jari Huttunen/Mikko Lukka (Hyundai) +3m45.9s
10 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Škoda) +4m08.5s