Sébastien Ogier has wrestled the Monza Rally lead from World Rally Championship rival Elfyn Evans on Saturday’s opening stage, but Thierry Neuville was fastest on the return to the mountains.
Just like on Friday, the event has headed for the roads near Bergamo in the morning before returning to the Monza racetrack in the afternoon.
And just like on Friday, Ogier managed to outpace Evans on the closed-road, twisty stages. Although the championship leader felt he was “not really on it” on San Fermo – an all-new stage for the rally – he pulled 2.9s from Evans to vault back up into the lead by 1.5s.
Evans meanwhile was sliding around more than expected.
“It wasn’t the best stage, I just seemed to struggle for grip,” he said.
Quizzed what he can do about that, Evans added: “We can chat about it now but maybe I just need to be a bit more patient.”
Neuville, who began the leg just three seconds ahead of Hyundai team-mate Dani Sordo in third place, more than doubled his advantage by beating Sordo by 3.4s on SS8.
But, despite lying 18.5s back and struggling to feature in the lead fight all weekend, he has his sights firmly set on the leading Toyotas.
“I hope we can catch back some time,” Neuville said. “We’re 20s behind, it’s a lot but it’s not a lot at the same time.”
Oliver Solberg’s hold on fifth spot is growing ever secure as he was quicker than those behind him on the leaderboard but not as fast as those ahead.
The 2C Competition driver felt his “car was a bit too lazy, a bit too soft” and therefore “the tires move a lot”, But he confessed “it’s nice to be best of the rest anyway”.
On stages that were less muddy and dirty, Teemu Suninen’s pace increased at the start of just his second day of competition in a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
“It was a bit cleaner so it was a bit easier,” he said of his stage.
Gus Greensmith nicked one second out of Takamoto Katsuta to close to 7.6s behind his sixth place, despite feeling he had a “small problem with the brakes”. Asked what the issue was, Greensmith replied: “Nothing we can’t fix.”
Suninen is eighth overall behind them, having closed himself to 9.7s off Greensmith. The Toyota, M-Sport and Hyundai cars are therefore split by just 17.3s overall, with Kalle Rovanperä – on a slow and steady drive this weekend – over half a minute adrift.
Adrien Fourmaux returned to action following his crash on Friday morning, running at the head of the road order as a result.
He was only quicker than Rovanperä (by 1.6s) on the stage though.
Marco Bulacia relinquished the lead of WRC2, heading straight on at a tight left hairpin after what looked like to be an error linked to the pacenotes.
The Toksport Škoda driver nosed off the road and siginifcant speed, managed to get back on route but was forced to stop with damage to one of his wheels.
Jari Huttunen – driving for M-Sport for the first time this weekend having switched from Hyundai – has now moved into the class lead.
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 9m15.4s
2 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +1.7s
3 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai) +3.4s
4 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +4.6s
5 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai) +5.1s
6 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Hyundai) +6.1s
Leading positions after SS8
1 Ogier/Ingrassia 1h13m23.7s
2 Evans/Martin +1.5s
3 Neuville/Wydaeghe +18.5s
4 Sordo/Carrera +24.9s
5 Solberg/Edmondson +52.6s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +1m14.3s
7 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +1m21.9s
8 Suninen/Markkula (Hyundai) +1m31.6s
9 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Haltunnen (Toyota) +2m08.5s
10 Yohan Rossel/Jacques-Julien Renucci (Citroën) +4m53.2s