Sébastien Ogier has vaulted into the lead of Rally Italy Sardinia, deposing overnight leader Esapekka Lappi with a stunning stage time on Friday morning.
Following Thursday night’s super-special, Tantariles 20Ris was the first all-gravel stage of the event and hadn’t been run since Sardinia’s World Rally Championship debut in 2004 – albeit at twice the length back then.
Nobody could match Toyota driver Ogier on the stage, who climbed from an overnight sixth to first in one fell swoop.
None of Ogier’s usual rivals could get close, as next-fastest Thierry Neuville was 7.2 seconds off the pace.
Ogier looked surprised by his superiority.
“In our day it’s difficult to make this kind of gap,” he said. “It feels fine, so I’m happy with the time obviously.”
Hyundai’s Lappi was competitive on SS2 though, losing just 1.7s to the eight-time champion to trail by 0.4s overall.
Pierre-Louis Loubet holds third after setting the third best time – 5.1s behind Lappi overall and just 0.4s clear of Takamoto Katsuta.
“After the water splash unfortunately we lose engine power for 1-2kms, so I think I lose a lot in the second split,” Loubet said.
Neuville’s top five time was enough to earn him fifth overall, one spot and 1.3s ahead of world championship leader Kalle Rovanperä.
Running as first car on the road hasn’t proved to be the same disadvantage for the world champion as it might have been, given the damp nature of the stages following persistent rain in the region.
But he still lost 7.8s to his team-mate’s fastest time to trail by 7.7s overall.
“Quite tough to be honest, it feels that it’s quite rough already first pass so it’s going to be a very tough day,” Rovanperä said.
Ott Tänak was just ninth fastest on SS2 to hold seventh overall, 0.7s ahead of Dani Sordo while Elfyn Evans was the slowest of the Rally1 cars to sit ninth overall – 11.5s off the lead.
But he wasn’t worried.
“It’s that type of stage,” Evans said. “If you’re willing to go with high rhythm and high risks the time really rewards you. But we were going in the middle of the road.”