Sébastien Ogier has extended his World Rally Championship lead over Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans by beating him to victory on round five of the season, Rally Italy.
Ogier recorded a winning margin of 46 seconds over Evans – who survived a late scare on the powerstage when he briefly ground to a halt after drowning his engine in a watersplash – to seal his third victory of 2021 and 52nd in his career.
Thierry Neuville won the powerstage and completed the podium in third, 19.2s behind Evans – who dropped 18.2s on the final stage – and over a minute adrift of Ogier.
The Italy podium finishers have begun to streak away in the title race too; third-placed Neuville 28 points ahead of team-mate Ott Tänak who claimed four bonus points on the powerstage. But the Hyundai driver now trails Ogier by 29 points, and Ogier enjoys a 11-point lead over Evans at the top of the standings.
“It’s been an incredible weekend,” said Ogier. “Coming here first on the road we were thinking better stay home it’s going to be a s*** weekend.
“But we did some good work in the test, the car was working much better than Portugal. For sure it’s very good for the championship. I had misfire for a long time on the powerstage but we survived.”
Describing his powerstage drama which was similar but more eventful than Ogier’s, Evans said: “We took on some water in the splash but it took a while to clear, thankfully we managed to get back on four cylinders and complete the stage so not a nice feeling.
“Seb did an exceptional job on that first Friday, it was another good weekend for the team, we can be pleased with that. But it’s just a shame we can’t take any extra points in the powerstage.”
As had been the case in Portugal, Hyundai and Tänak were the package to beat on Rally Italy and the 2019 world champion duly began to pull clear from the rest of the field on Friday and into Saturday morning.
But just like two weeks ago, Tänak was forced to park up and surrender a commanding lead with a mechanical breakage; this time caused by a loose stone on the line that destroyed the rear-left suspension of his i20 Coupe WRC.
“I mean for sure all the Hyundai have done a great job to get me on this level in this car, for me definitely the car is really fast now,” said Tänak at the end of the powerstage.
“There is nothing stopping us. It’s a fast car, it’s just making it reliable and I’m sure we can do it.”
Fast it may be, but it was out of the contest and Toyota was once again ready to capitalise on Hyundai’s blunder. In Sardinia, it was Ogier who gladly accepted the gift and moved into the lead.
The seven-time world champion had put in a masterful performance on Friday to lie third overall, despite the handicap of running first on the road, as both Evans and Neuville struggled and languished down the order.
Ogier moved past Dani Sordo on Saturday morning and into second before inheriting the lead and then checked out from there, managing the gap perfectly to the end.
Sordo had looked nailed on for second, successfully repelling the advances of Evans who had shaded Neuville on Saturday morning, before he ran his Hyundai towards the edge of the road on the penultimate test of the day and crashed it.
With his right wheels on the edge of the road, Sordo clipped a culvert and that pitched his i20 Coupe WRC into a roll that he couldn’t recover from.
Evans therefore stole second and led home Neuville in the rally. It’s the fourth time out of five events Neuville has come third this season.
Toyota junior Takamoto Katsuta is another to have shown great consistency this season and that continued in Italy; the Japanese equalling his best-ever WRC result – set two weeks ago in Portugal – with fourth place.
This was a far more distant fourth than in Portugal however as – a mistake on Saturday afternoon when he and Dan Barritt forgot to remove the Yaris’s radiator blanking before the stage aside – he completed his mission just to “survive” the rally.
The result means he’s now just one point adrift of Tänak in the championship and four clear of his Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanperä.
Katsuta was also incredibly the fourth and final World Rally Car to make it through without retiring, as along with Tänak and Sordo, both M-Sport cars, Rovanperä and Pierre-Louis Loubet all ran into trouble.
Teemu Suninen was the first casualty, crashing his Ford Fiesta WRC on the opening stage for the second time this year as a tightening right-hander crept up on him and he simply carried too much speed.
Team-mate Gus Greensmith was more unfortunate, battling a multitude of mechanical gremlins throughout the weekend with stand-in co-driver Stuart Loudon alongside. He retired on both Friday and Saturday.
Rovanperä meanwhile had been an early second behind Tänak before something in his suspension failed on the fourth test and reduced his weekend points total to just three from the powerstage.
2C Competition’s Loubet’s barren run of results continued but this time it was through no fault of his own.
The 2019 WRC2 Champion was slowest of the WRC cars early doors but admitted his mission was to just to rebuild his confidence, but he was denied the chance to do that when first he lost the brakes on Friday’s final two stages and then he retired on Saturday with a mechanical problem, smelling some burning in his Hyundai.
Due to this high attrition rate, Rally2 cars infiltrated the overall top 10 with both the WRC2 and WRC3 podiums filling out fifth to 10th places.
WRC2 belonged to Jari Huttunen after an intense scrap with Mads Østberg.
Andreas Mikkelsen and Adrien Fourmaux both crashed out on Friday, and that meant early leader Østberg was under less pressure going into Saturday and began to pull clear at the head of a field.
But first a brake pipe issue and then a wheel problem on the road section which caused him to check into Saturday midday service six minutes late and incur a one-minute penalty, beset his rally. That lifted Jari Huttunen into a 34.9s lead, but Østberg was on the hunt.
The reigning WRC2 Champion managed to claw back the time and surged past Huttunen on Sunday’s first stage, only for a puncture to peg him behind again by 17.4s – much to Østberg’s rage.
But a superb run on the penultimate stage closed Østberg to 2.1s behind Huttunen – who was trying to manage a cutting engine – only for brake troubles to resurface again and cost Østberg 5.4s to Huttunen on the final test. He missed out on the victory by 7.5s.
“It was not a good stage, I have a leak in my brake system again so probably a brake pipe,” said Østberg.
“I couldn’t feel on the road section but as I was warming for the stage, I could smell the fluid and the pedal was long. I’ve done all in my power to be fast, I’ve been a mechanic and a driver and all sorts.”
Fifth place and the WRC2 victory for Huttunen was the best result of his WRC career, and was the first time a support-class category car finished in the top five since Robert Kubica did so in Germany eight years ago.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling, and after a long, long break I think it’s been a good rally for me,” he said. “The pace was not what we want but we tried to keep the tires and the car, and we are here.”
Yohan Rossel claimed WRC3 honors in his Citroën to consolidate his championship lead – his first victory since the Monte Carlo Rally in January.
As always, a fierce battle had ensued early on with Croatia and Portugal winner Kajetan Kajetanowicz but the triple European Rally Champion went off the road on Friday and ruined his victory bid.
Pepe López and Jan Solans therefore moved into the podium fight, swapping positions briefly before López stretched clear of Jan Solans to record second in class and eighth overall; the 2019 Junior WRC Champion one spot below on the podium and overall.
Marco Bulacia completed the overall top 10 after a steady rally that included a miraculous slow roll – where he ran wide, rolled and just got going again – on Sunday morning. The Toksport Škoda was third in WRC2 to move into second in the standings.
Curiously, this was the first WRC event since Rally GB 2001 where no Ford car finished in the overall top 10. Martin Prokop was the highest placed Ford driver in Italy in 12th place.
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 5m33.450s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +0.263s
3 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +1.161s
4 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +5.239s
5 Dani Sordo/Borja Rozada (Hyundai) +5.736s
6 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford) +7.308s
Final positions after SS20
1 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) 3h19m26.4s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +46.0s
3 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1m05.2s
4 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +6m11.2s
5 Jari Huttunen/Mikko Lukka (Hyundai) +9m31.7s
6 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) +9m39.2s
7 Yohan Rossel/Alexandre Coria (Citroën) +10m37.7s
8 Pepe López/David Vallejo (Škoda) +11m03.7s
9 Jan Solans/Rodrigo Sanjuan (Citroën) +11m06.3s
10 Marco Bulacia/Marcelo Ohannesian (Škoda) +11m34.6s
1 Ogier 106 2 Evans 95 3 Neuville 77 4 Tänak 49 5 Katsuta 48 6 Rovanperä 43 7 Sordo 30 8 Craig Breen 24
1 Toyota 231 2 Hyundai 182 3 M-Sport Ford 82 4 Hyundai 2C Competition 28
1 Andreas Mikkelsen 68 2 Østberg 66 3 Bulacia 63 4 Esapekka Lappi 59 5 Suninen 41 6 Adrien Fourmaux 34 7 Enrico Brazzoli 31 8 Huttunen 30