Dani Sordo’s Rally Italy lead is suddenly under threat as both Sébastien Ogier and Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville made inroads on Sunday’s opening stage, as the pair continued their tussle over second.
Sordo enjoyed a 27.4-second lead at the head of the field after 12 of 16 Sardinian stages, but dropped a colossal 12.1s on SS13 Cala Flumini to see his lead decimated to 15.3s.
“We need to push harder, it’s not enough. Others are pushing hard,” were his stage-end comments.
The threat of Hyundai imposing team orders and switching Sordo and Neuville around was the talk of the service park on Sunday morning, with Neuville stating: “If I do the job, they will do the job.”
Sordo took a stance of: “I don’t think these guys need any help,” as he pledged to try and “help himself” and win the rally.
But the key to any of this team order talk was Neuville managing to depose Ogier of second spot, and that is no easy task. The size of that task became clear on the 8.73-mile Cala Flumini test that kickstarted Sunday.
“Probably not enough, but OK we tried,” said Neuville after his run, unsure of what Ogier’s time would be. But he was right, as Ogier outpaced him by 0.2s to nudge his advantage up to 1.7s.
“Yeah, it’s nothing, but better than nothing,” Ogier admitted of his time gap.
The other battle that appeared finely poised on Sunday was Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen’s fight over fourth spot, with the world championship leader Evans beginning the day protecting an 8.5s over Suninen’s M-Sport Fiesta.
But Evans wasn’t having any of it, smashing Suninen by 19.2s on SS13 to defuse any hopes Suninen had of overhauling the Toyota.
“Obviously our fight today is with Teemu essentially. A few small errors that cost a few seconds for sure but it was a good run,” Evans said, as he opened up a buffer of 27.7s over fifth place.
Pierre-Louis Loubet is seventh behind World Rally Champion Ott Tänak in sixth and is desperate to make the end after retiring early on Sunday in both Estonia and Turkey.
“I wasn’t taking any risk because we have nothing to play [for]. It’s important to finish now,” he said, setting the slowest Rally1 time.
Takamoto Katsuta remained the first car into the stages after an accident on Friday, with his brake problems late on Saturday now a distant memory.
Gus Greensmith restarted after his alternator issue on Saturday morning, and went 5.6s faster than Katsuta on Cala Flumini.
1 Ogier (Toyota) 8m35.5s
2 Neuville (Hyundai) +0.2s
3 Evans (Toyota) +4.8s
4 Sordo (Hyundai) +12.1s
5 Tänak (Hyundai) +12.2s
6 Suninen (M-Sport) +24s
Leading positions after SS13
1 Sordo (Hyundai) 2h23m23.1s
2 Ogier (Toyota) +15.2s
3 Neuville (Hyundai) +17s
4 Evans (Toyota) +51.1s
5 Suninen (M-Sport Ford) +1m18.8s
6 Tänak (Hyundai) +2m25.4s
7 Loubet (2C Competition Hyundai) +3m58.8s
8 Huttunen (Hyundai) +7m28.1s
9 Kajetanowicz (Škoda) +7m35.6s
10 Tidemand (Škoda) +8m47.2s