World Rally Championship favorite Sébastien Ogier flirted with danger on Sunday’s first stage of the Monza Rally, nudging a concrete barrier with his Toyota, but remains in the lead of the rally and on course for an eighth world title.
Through one of the chicanes on the famous Monza banking, Ogier clipped the concrete with the front-right of his Yaris – contact that ruined Thierry Neuville’s event in 2020 and sent WRC2 driver Nikolay Gryazin into an adjacent haybale on Friday.
But Ogier got away with it, scraping his rim and tire but sustaining no further damage despite a very audible thud when he clouted the chicane. He set an identical time to Elfyn Evans on SS14 to remain in the lead of the rally by just 0.5 seconds.
“It proves it’s very easy to hit something,” Ogier commented.
Thierry Neuville was pessimistic about catching Hyundai team-mate Dani Sordo for the final podium spot at Monza unless somebody ahead of him makes a mistake.
He did however win Grand Prix 2 and steal 1.6s from Sordo, but has a 17.6s deficit to make up and just two stages to catch him.
“I didn’t want to take any risks,” Sordo admitted. “He [Neuville] was with soft tires which is a little bit better for this type of stage but my car is OK so all good.”
Sixth placed Takamoto Katsuta sounded surprised to have set such a good time; he was fifth fastest, 3.5s quicker than Oliver Solberg who is ahead of him in the overall classification. Katsuta said his pace relative to those around him was “better than expected”.
Solberg took the unusual decision of fitting two soft tires on the front of his 2C Hyundai and two hards on the rear. Usually if drivers take two of each, they cross them on different sides of the car.
“It was just to try something new,” Solberg said of his decision, before explaining why his time was a bit weaker than expected.
“I touched one barrier on the chicanes, I’m very lucky I didn’t get a puncture. I took it very easy after that, I got a bit scared I think.”
He remains a fantastic fifth overall with 14.1s in hand over Katsuta.
Seventh place is very much up for grabs, with Teemu Suninen and Gus Greensmith squabbling for it.
Suninen, with Hyundai for the first time in the top class this weekend, held the spot by 7.7s ahead of Sunday but had been steadily reeled in across the back half of Saturday.
Clearly he woke up on Sunday in a determined mood as he beat Greensmith by 2.1s to bump his overall advantage up to 9.8s.
“It felt pretty OK but still it could have been better, I was a bit careful on the braking,” Suninen said.
Unlike Suninen, Greensmith felt like his run was as close to perfect as he could get: “I gave it everything I could in there, there’s nothing more I can do so we’ll just try our best.”
Kalle Rovanperä has been fighting for nothing all weekend as he was instructed to keep a steady pace to ensure Toyota doesn’t miss out on the manufacturers’ championship.
Adrien Fourmaux beat Rovanperä by 0.6s on Grand Prix 2 as the pair completed the bottom end of the stage leaderboard in the RC1 class.
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 5m12.3s
2 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +1.0s
3 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +1.0s
4 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +1.2s
5 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai) +1.6s
6 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai) +4.7s
Leading positions after SS14
1 Ogier/Ingrassia 2h18m40.5s
2 Evans/Martin +0.5s
3 Sordo/Carrera +28.0s
4 Neuville/Wydaeghe +45.6s
5 Solberg/Edmondson +1m24.9s
6 Katsuta/Johnston +1m39.0s
7 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Hyundai) +2m21.3s
8 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +2m31.1s
9 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Haltunnen (Toyota) +3m48.1s
10 Andrea Crugnola/Pietro Elia Ometto (Hyundai) +8m21.5s