Sordo surges into Monza lead, Neuville gets caught in fence

Lively start to Friday's stage action at Monza, with one Hyundai driver flying as another hits early trouble

2020MONZA_FD_ 038

Dani Sordo has vaulted from sixth place overnight to lead Monza Rally ahead of Esapekka Lappi and Sébastien Ogier, as Ogier and Thierry Neuville both made mistakes on the same corner.

Conditions on the 8.34-mile Scorpion stage were sodden and perilous, with sleet falling on the already damp surface to create an arena more fit for ice skating than rally driving.

Overnight rally leader and World Rally Championship title hopeful Ogier quickly found out just how perilous it was as the rear of his Toyota Yaris WRC snapped away from him and he clouted a haybale with the left-rear corner of his car.

But worse was to befall Hyundai’s Neuville. Getting caught out at the same corner as Ogier, Neuville simply locked up on the brakes and slid into some barbed-wire fencing.

Wrestling to free his i20 Coupe WRC from the roadside obstacle, Neuville ceded over 20 seconds to the first car on the road, Elfyn Evans, in one split and by stage end had dropped 22s to Ogier – who he trailed by just 0.5s at the beginning of the stage. He therefore fell out of the top 10 on the leaderboard.

Neuville admitted his incident came as a “huge surprise”. He added: “Obviously I wasn’t the first to go in there but the car wouldn’t restart. [It was the] same issue we had a couple of rallies ago, the car wouldn’t start.”

Ogier meanwhile lost a couple of seconds early on to Evans with his misdemeanor, but recovered the deficit to outpace his team-mate by 0.5s by the stage finish. As he had on Thursday’s opening stage, Evans opted for a cautious approach which, given the drama that befell both Ogier and Neuville, seemed a wise choice.

But Evans still dropped a place from fourth to fifth, such was the pace of those further behind. Hyundai driver Sordo was the biggest mover, winning Scorpion by 4.6s to open up a lead of the same gap over Lappi after the pair shared position on SS1.

Ogier is 7.1s back in third, 0.8s ahead of Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanperä with Evans a further 2.4s adrift, 10.3s adrift of Sordo’s lead.

“Honestly I was preparing in my head really, really strong and now in the middle of the stage I found like ice, but I was expecting much more in some places,” Sordo said.

“We make some modification to the car yesterday and the people work hard for us, the engineers, so I’m happy.”

World Rally Champion Ott Tänak was another to struggle on the rally’s second test as the driver-side door on his Hyundai kept opening. It restricted Tänak to just the seventh-fastest time and he dropped from third to sixth, 15.1s away from the lead.

Teemu Suninen started Scorpion in 10th overall but was a startling 4.1s up on all of his rivals through the first split, threatening to vault to the front of the pack. However, he eventually lost 12.8s to stage winner Sordo in a sick-sounding M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC and ended up seventh overall, 0.4s adrift of Tänak.

“Maybe I’m having two cylinder of three cylinder but no power at all!” Suninen said.

The unique set-up of the Monza Rally means there is a flexi-service after each of Friday’s five stages, which will give M-Sport an opportunity to diagnose and potentially fix the problem.

Suninen’s team-mate Gus Greensmith admitted he “took it too careful” as he dropped 22.2s on the stage. He is 10th and 2.5s behind Ole Christian Veiby, who felt he “was braking too early” but is 7.1s up on Neuville, who’s now 29.6s away from his rally leading team-mate.

Takamoto Katsuta returned to action after his embarrassing collision with a barrier on Thursday’s opening stage. He confessed his target was just “to stay on the road”.

Andreas Mikkelsen set a barnstorming pace in WRC3, beating the next-fastest car of Jari Huttunen by 10.4s despite being caught behind Grégoire Munster towards the end of the stage.

The seventh-fastest time on the stage elevated Mikkelsen to an incredible eighth overall, just 16.8s shy of Sordo’s overall rally lead. Title favorite Huttunen is second in class, with Finnish compatriot Emil Lindholm third.

Adrien Forumaux blitzed his rivals in WRC2 by 12.1s and is up to 11th overall as a result. His class lead is now 12.2s over Mads Østberg with Jan Kopecký ahead of his Toksport team-mate Pontus Tidemand in third.

SS2 times

1 Sordo (Hyundai) 9m54.5s
2 Esapekka Lappi (M-Sport Ford) +4.6s
3 Kalle Rovanperä (Toyota) +8.6s
4 Sebastien Ogier (Toyota) +10.8s
5 Elfyn Evans (Toyota) +11.3s
6 Teemu Suninen (M-Sport Ford) +12.8s

Leading positions after SS2

1 Sordo (Hyundai) 13m29.7s
2 Lappi (M-Sport Ford) +4.6s
3 Ogier (Toyota) +7.1s
4 Rovanperä (Toyota) +7.9s
5 Evans (Toyota) +10.3s
6 Tänak (Hyundai) +15.1s
7 Suninen (M-Sport Ford) +15.5s
8 Veiby (2C Competition Hyundai) +20s
9 Greensmith (M-Sport Ford) +22.5s
10 Fourmaux (M-Sport Ford) +24s