World Rally Champion-elect Sébastien Ogier has extended his Monza Rally lead to 25.5 seconds on Sunday morning, with Hyundai’s Ott Tänak now his nearest challenger in second.
For the first time essentially all weekend, there was no precipitation as the rally returned for a full day of stages around the Monza circuit, although the opening stage was damp in several places.
There were different tire strategies at play, as Dani Sordo and Esapekka Lappi selected snow-compound rubber but the rest opted for wets.
Ogier, one of the gaggle of cars on wets, was the last of the Rally1 runners onto the stage and went fastest of all to extend his overall advantage beyond the 20-second mark.
Having suggested on Saturday that he had no reason to push on the final day, Ogier insisted he stuck to that and “didn’t push, I just drove clean” on the Grand Prix stage, revealing he had lucked in to taking the right tires.
“Honestly the tire made a big difference,” he said. “I just wanted to copy what Dani was doing; Ott had wet and Dani had snow, and the team gave me wet.”
Sordo won both passes previous passes of the Grand Prix stage when it ran on Friday and Saturday afternoon, but could not repeat the feat on Sunday morning.
Instead, he leaked 10.4s to the stage winner and 7s to Tänak to slip to third, 2.7s behind his team-mate.
“The focus is to try to finish with no mistakes, I didn’t take any risk,” said Sordo, echoing the thoughts of Tänak – who stated he “has to finish today”.
The snow tire could well have been the wrong option, as M-Sport’s Lappi also lost a hefty 15.1s to Kalle Rovanperä – who set a strong time just 1.6s slower than Ogier’s.
That helped halve Rovanperä’s deficit to Lappi, who is fourth, to 16.8s.
Elfyn Evans returned to action following his retirement on Saturday. Out of the points-scoring positions due to missing two stages, Evans’ only hope of claiming the drivers’ title now rest on the powerstage and Ogier’s rivals nicking places from him.
“It’s not under the same set of circumstances,” Evans said of his return, “but we can just try and enjoy today.” He understandably took no risks, setting a time 13.7s slower than the fastest.
Takamoto Katsuta has been a revelation on the two previous passes of Grand Prix, setting the second-fastest time on both occasions.
But the Toyota junior made “a few mistakes so I could’ve been a lot faster” on Sunday morning, and it showed on the timesheets as he lost 8.2s to his inspired team-mate Rovanperä.
Positions six to 10 on the overall leaderboard are occupied by Rally2 cars, and it’s WRC3 leader Andreas Mikkelsen who continues to head the pack.
He increased his advantage over Oliver Solberg by 2.1s to 16.4s overall on SS14.
Jari Huttunen is eighth, in position to take the WRC3 title, while Mads Østberg heads WRC2 and is in the same boat there. Emil Lindholm is 10th.
1 Ogier (Toyota) 5m32.2s
2 Rovanperä (Toyota) +1.6s
3 Tänak (Hyundai) +3.4s
4 Katsuta (Toyota) +9.8s
5 Sordo (Hyundai) +10.4s
6 Fourmaux (M-Sport Ford) +11.3s
Leading positions after SS14
1 Ogier (Toyota) 1h53m19.4s
2 Tänak (Hyundai) +25.5s
3 Sordo (Hyundai) +28.2s
4 Lappi (M-Sport Ford) +54.9s
5 Rovanperä (Toyota) +1m11.7s
6 Mikkelsen (Škoda) +3m32.7s
7 Solberg (Škoda) +3m49.1s
8 Huttunen (Hyundai) +4m28.9s
9 Østberg (Citroën) +4m54s
10 Lindholm (Škoda) +5m25.4s