Dani Sordo has wrestled the Rally Italy lead from Teemu Suninen after a stunning SS4 performance, but team-mate Ott Tänak’s World Rally Championship defense could be all but over.
Tänak is all the way down in ninth as he battled through some sort of issue aboard his Hyundai. The exact nature however is unknown, as the World Rally Champion elected not to speak to the stage-end reporters throughout the morning. But the damage done to his rally and title charge is clear, as he sits over a minute away from the lead.
Suninen’s lead for M-Sport is well timed after team principal Rich Millener called on his drivers to perform better before the rally got underway. Suninen set a stunning time on SS1 that was 12.4s quicker than anybody else but has gradually been reeled in by Sordo thereafter.
Sordo had that gap down to 5.4s after SS2 and then to 5s after the shorter 7.5-mile Tempio Pausania test. But on the longer 13.53-mile – which he won by 7.1s on the first pass – the reigning Rally Italy winner flexed his muscles to win the stage by 9.4s and crucially 12.5s quicker than Suninen.
It gives the Hyundai star a 7.5s lead. He said: “It’s good! Happy! The car is really nice to drive, we are working on the set-up and the diff maps and all but it was good. The team is making really strong work on the car during this holiday [lockdown] so I am happy with this.”
Sébastien Ogier is the leading man in title contention in third place, with points leader Elfyn Evans just behind him in fourth.
Evans had nibbled 2.1 seconds back from Ogier in their battle after winning SS3, but the six-time champion immediately put his championship leading team-mate in his place on the 13.53-mile Erula-Tula 2 stage, outpacing Evans by 4s to lead him by 6.1s.
“I think so far it’s working well so we have to keep going,” Ogier commented.
Evans is content in fourth overall too as he is well placed in comparison to his other championship rivals; just one place behind Ogier and ahead of Thierry Neuville and Tänak.
“[We’re] pretty satisfied overall,” Evans said. “I’m quite happy with my morning.”
Neuville is in touch of Evans after a strong run on SS4, just 4.6s behind after winning SS4. But his Hyundai hasn’t looked quite capable of matching the Toyota’s ahead. He took two spare tires and reckons that upset his car’s balance somewhat, admitting “we should be faster than this.”
“It’s obviously not where we wanted to be,” he added, referring to his title rivals Ogier and Evans lying ahead of him overall.
Kalle Rovanperä overshot on SS2 and dropped over 20s to the stage winner, leaving him stranded in sixth. He felt his run on SS4 that was quicker than both his team-mates Ogier and Evans was his only respectable one of the rally so far.
“I think this was the first stage that was somehow OK,” he said. “It’s [been] a difficult loop.”
Gus Greensmith is just 8s behind Rovanperä, and content with his work in seventh overall. He said: “If you’d have asked me if I was happy [to be here] back in Estonia I’d have said yeah. But there’s still work to do.”
Takamoto Katsuta had been ninth, pressuring Pierre-Louis Loubet’s eighth place, but crashed out on SS4 after running slightly wide in a narrow section, clipping a bank and rolling to the other side of the road.
Loubet himself suffered a puncture in the previous stage, which caused some damage to his 2C Competition Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
It was a rather innocuous incident that may have been caused by jumping out of a rut, but his Toyota Yaris WRC will be going no further on Friday.
Esapekka Lappi was another to not make it through Sardinia’s first four tests. He had been lying second for M-Sport after the opening stage but stopped on the second, a water temperature alarm lighting up the dashboard of his Ford Fiesta WRC.
Adrien Fourmaux leads WRC2 for M-Sport despite a puncture and “almost rolling” throughout the morning.
The Ford Fiesta Rally2 pilot is 15.7s ahead of championship leader Pontus Tidemand who is second his first ever visit to Sardinia.
“I’m happy because it was probably the most rough part of the rally this four stages. We are leading WRC2, we need to keep this position,” Fourmaux said. “I am happy with the car so we need to continue like that.”
Ole Christian Veiby took two stage wins but is only third after losing a minute with a puncture on SS3. Mads Østberg lost even more time however with a broken front driveshaft hampering him as early as SS1.
“I’ve managed to improve my rear-wheel-drive driving now, I think we are two to three seconds per kilometer now so if we can do that with full four-wheel-drive I will be happy,” he joked.
Oliver Solberg is leading WRC3 and occupies 10th position overall in his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo, but only has 7.8s over an impressive Yoann Rossel.
Solberg was an incredible seventh fastest – quicker than Neuville and Tänak – on SS1 to lead the class from the get-go and hasn’t looked back despite only winning that one test and losing 20s to a spin.
Recently crowned Polish champion Jari Huttunen is third ahead of Rally Turkey winner class Kajetan Kajetanowicz, with Nicolas Ciamin in fifth, 27.9s down on the lead.
Another Frenchman Eric Camilli had been second after SS2 but dropped over a minute on the following test.
1 Sordo (Hyundai) 16m33.1s
2 Neuville (Hyundai) +9.4s
3 Rovanperä (Toyota) +9.7s
4 Ogier (Toyota) +10.8s
5 Suninen (M-Sport Ford) +12.5s
6 Greensmith (M-Sport Ford) +14.4s
Leading positions after SS4
1 Sordo (Hyundai) 53m27.7s
2 Suninen (M-Sport Ford) +7.5s
3 Ogier (Toyota) +18.6s
4 Evans (Toyota) +24.7s
5 Neuville (Hyundai) +29.3s
6 Rovanperä (Toyota) +44.3s
7 Greensmith (M-Sport Ford) +52.3s
8 Loubet (2C Competition Hyundai) +1m09.4s
9 Tänak (Hyundai) +1m49.6s
10 Fourmaux (M-Sport Ford) +2m43.1s