Dani Sordo holds a strong 17.4-second lead at the head of Rally Italy over M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen as Thierry Neuville stole third from Sébastien Ogier on the Friday’s final stage.
Sordo has benefited from a lower road position than all but one of his Rally1 rivals but has put that to exceptional use, winning four of Friday’s six stages to lead the rally he won last year.
A stage win by 1.3s over Neuville, 7.9s quicker than Suninen extended his lead gap into double figures with 10 stages of the rally remaining on Saturday and Sunday. But Sordo knows the job is far from over.
“This is only the first day,” he said. “It’s already something but we need to keep this to the end. It’s only one day and we want more than one day.”
Suninen had gambled with an adverse tire strategy to his rivals, selecting three medium and two hard compound Michelins as opposed to Sordo who took five mediums.
“Actually, I have to say that was quite disappointment, we were expecting to have plus 30 degrees road surface. I couldn’t use my hards,” Suninen rued.
Despite falling further and further back from an imperious Sordo, Suninen does enjoy a 17.8s advantage over new third-placed Neuville who wrestled that position off Ogier who was irate with having to clean the road as second car in, labelling it “ridiculous” and “nothing new.”
Neuville wasn’t the happiest either though, frustrated with sub-par handling on Friday morning and a costly stall on Friday’s penultimate stage. He starts Saturday just 0.8s ahead of Ogier.
“I’m really trying of course but two times today in the tight corner the engine suddenly stall, and I couldn’t really start,” Neuville said. “It’s really a shame because we were doing the perfect job.
Elfyn Evans is fifth for Toyota, finding cleaning the road “impossible” on Friday’s afternoon loop. But the world championship leader is now in a more relaxed position with the confirmation of Monza’s inclusion on the WRC calendar repelling questions about whether he could win the title this week.
Ott Tänak’s Rally Italy was ruined as soon as it began as his Hyundai developed some kind of a suspension issue that pegged him back from troubling the front runners. He lost almost two minutes throughout Friday’s first four stages.
But after service, he found his true form with a second fastest and then fastest time on SS5 and SS6, enabling him to climb from ninth to eighth at the expense of Kalle Rovanperä. That wasn’t enough to please Tänak though, who declared he was enduring “tough times” at the moment.
Rovanperä had been sixth after service but haemorrhaged time on both Sedini – Castelsardo and Tergu – Osilo with a technical issue aboard his Toyota Yaris WRC. As he chose not to speak to stand-end reporters, the nature of his problems is as yet unknown.
Gus Greensmith is sixth overall in his M-Sport Fiesta WRC, just 15.2s shy of fellow Briton Evans in fifth. Loubet is tucked 26.4s behind Greensmith but frustrated with himself after making a mistake at the end of SS5.
“[In the] previous stage at the end I touch something and bent the wheel,” he said, with the incident suspected to have damaged the TCA on his Hyundai. “When it [the feeling] start to work I do a mistake,” he rued.
Esapekka Lappi and Takamoto Katsuta both failed to see the end of Friday. Lappi’s engine encountered suspected water temperature issues on SS2 while Katsuta crashed his Yaris on SS4.
Pontus Tidemand is the WRC2 points leader and rally leader in Italy, controlling a 31.9s advantage over M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux who had led up until SS5.
Fourmaux punctured on that test and fell to third, but he rose back up to second as Ole Christian Veiby then punctured on the day’s concluding test. It was the second puncture of the day for both drivers.
Veiby slipped down to fourth behind Eyvind Brynildsen, but comfortably ahead of Mads Østberg who was without front-wheel-drive for four of Friday’s six stages.
Nikolay Gryazin had been ahead of Brynildsen until SS5 when he damaged two of his Hyundai’s tires and only had one spare, ruling him out for the day.
Oliver Solberg’s Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo is 10th overall and at the head of the WRC3 class but is under pressure from an unlikely source: Yoann Rossel.
Rossel nicked 1.4s out of Solberg on the afternoon’s two stages to lie just 6.4s behind in his Citroën C3 R5 with compatriot Nicolas Ciamin another 17s back.
Ciamin’s third comes at the expense of Jari Huttunen who dropped to fourth on SS6, but he’s still 12.5s ahead of Rally Turkey winner Kajetan Kajetanowicz.
1 Sordo (Hyundai) 8m16.5s
2 Neuville (Hyundai) +1.3s
3 Tänak (Hyundai) +3.2s
4 Suninen (M-Sport Ford) +7.9s
5 Greensmith (M-Sport Ford) +9.3s
6 Ogier (Hyundai) +10.8s
Leading positions after SS6
1 Sordo (Hyundai) 1h12m40.9s
2 Suninen (M-Sport Ford) +17.4s
3 Neuville (Hyundai) +35.2s
4 Ogier (Toyota) +36.0s
5 Evans (Toyota) +51.9s
6 Greensmith (M-Sport Ford) +1m07.1s
7 Loubet (2C Competition Hyundai) +1m33.5s
8 Tänak (Hyundai) +1m53.7s
9 Rovanperä (Toyota) +2m32.3s
10 Tidemand (Škoda) +3m49.9s