The Monza Rally lead has changed hands for the third stage in succession as Sébastien Ogier won the second pass of San Fermo to once again overhaul World Rally Championship title rival Elfyn Evans.
Evans led the rally overnigh, and Ogier moved ahead after the first run of San Fermo – a new stage for 2021 – earlier on Saturday morning.
But Evans moved back in front on Selvino, establishing a 2.3-second advantage over Ogier who heads him by 17 points in the world championship.
Ogier responded on SS10 after regroup however, beating Evans – who was only sixth fastest – by 3.4s to open up a 1.1s lead. Even if he wasn’t particularly interested in that fact.
“I keep focusing on my drive,” he said. “I know for you it looks like a battle but the truth is I focus on my drive only.”
Although Ogier and Evans are both in contention for the title on the final round, the brewing battle has little influence on that picture as any podium place would guarantee Ogier the crown.
Evans was just a touch mystified to have dropped as much ground as he did.
“It felt like a pretty good run to be honest,” he said, having been up on Ogier on the first split. “We were smooth but obviously not quite fast enough.”
Thierry Neuville’s pace was restricted by the front-end damage he sustained after his skirmish with the Armco earlier on Saturday morning, but he still managed to grab 1.5s back from Dani Sordo who inherited Neuville’s third spot after his moment.
Retaking the position is feasible too, as Neuville is just 16.3s behind Sordo – but he was quite concerned about tire wear, an issue exaggerated by his reshaped front-end.
“I try to have a good run to keep the pressure on Dani but it was a clean, smooth run,” said Neuville. “In the bumpy sections I always lose the front [without the aero] so I need to be quite careful.”
Teemu Suninen relieved Gus Greensmith of his seventh place after an incredibly strong run to the third-fastest time, beating his old M-Sport team-mate by five seconds to open up a 3.4s cushion.
Greensmith, who has struggled with brake issues throughout Saturday morning, hasn’t been able to cure the problem completely without a service break until after the next stage.
“We’ve tried everything that we can do,” he admitted. “[It was] slightly better than the stage before but halfway through the stage we don’t have the pedal, so I just do my best.”
Suninen beat 2C Competition’s Oliver Solberg and Hyundai team-mate Sordo by 0.8s and gnawed 3.1s out of his overall deficit to Takamoto Katsuta too, but the Toyota’s junior’s advantage in sixth looks secure for now at 19.6s.
He did appear to have an issue with grip in his Yaris WRC that he wasn’t keen to elaborate on after SS9, but on SS10 things were “slightly better”.
“I didn’t feel very good on the hairpins, and there are a lot of hairpins, so it’s maybe something I can improve,” he said.
Solberg meanwhile is in an increasingly lonely fifth spot, and admitted he “drove very, very slow” after having “learned to be fast” as he instead seeks “to learn how to look after tires in the long run”.
Kalle Rovanperä may be rooted in ninth place, instructed not to push hard this weekend by his Toyota bosses, but he wasn’t the slowest World Rally Car on SS10. He beat Adrien Fourmaux’s M-Sport Ford by just a single second.
1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) 9m11.1s
2 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1.7s
3 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Hyundai) +2.4s
4 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai) +3.2s
5 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai) +3.2s
6 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +3.4s
Leading positions after SS10
1 Ogier/Ingrassia 1h38m50.9s
2 Evans/Martin +1.1s
3 Sordo/Carrera +28.0s
4 Neuville/Wydaeghe +44.3s
5 Solberg/Edmondson +1m03.5s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +1m24.5s
7 Suninen/Markkula (Hyundai) +1m44.1s
8 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +1m47.5s
9 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Haltunnen (Toyota) +2m46.9s
10 Yohan Rossel/Jacques-Julien Renucci (Citroën) +6m22.1s