Dani Sordo claimed his third World Rally Championship victory on Rally Italy, heading Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville after the Belgian pipped Sébastien Ogier to second place on the powerstage.
Sordo’s winning margin was a narrow 5.1 seconds, with the top three split by a mere 6.1s, and Neuville getting the better of Ogier by just 1s having started the rally-ending SS6 1.7s behind. It replaces 2011 Rally Argentina as the closest podium finish in WRC history.
“It’s amazing. I’m not really happy with my performance today but at the end we managed a brilliant rally so I’m really, really happy,” Sordo said.
Elfyn Evans still leads the WRC standings but has had his 18 point gap cut by four to 14 points after he finished fourth and took two powerstage points. Neuville is up to third in the standings, eight points behind Ogier.
Ott Tänak could only manage sixth place after losing close to two minutes on Friday’s opening loop of four stages with a suspension issue. Quickest on the powerstage yielded an extra five points, but he’s now 28 points back with two rounds remaining. On the plus side for his boss Andrea Adamo, Hyundai has overtaken Toyota at the top of the manufacturer’s championship.
Kalle Rovanperä is now a very distant player in the title race after enduring a scrappy weekend that began with a shakedown accident, then an overshoot on Friday and finally a crash on Saturday when he ran wide, clipped a tree and careered into another tree backwards.
M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen was the man who lead Rally Italy in the early stages, setting a storming run through the opening Tempio Pausania test that was 12.4s quicker than anybody else.
Second quickest was team-mate Esapekka Lappi, but that was as good as it got for him as all the water escaped from the engine in his Ford Fiesta WRC and he wasn’t able to participate in the following two days of the rally.
Sordo had been 12.5s off the lead on SS1 but began to gnaw away at his deficit, eventually overhauling Suninen on SS4 to lead by 17.4s overnight on Friday.
With road conditions more equal for the leading runners – and a malfunctioning handbrake costing him time, particularly after an overshoot – Suninen was unable to keep pace and dropped down to fifth place on Saturday night.
Sordo however was still on it. The battling Ogier and Neuville had the legs on him, but their yo-yoing changing of position enabled Sordo to actually increase his gap at the head of the field to 27.4s – despite taking just one stage win across the day.
That advantage would be significantly dented at the start of Sunday though, as Ogier and Neuville catapulted into the Cala Flumini test separated by just 1.5s in Ogier’s favor after Neuville slid wide on approach to a bridge on Saturday’s final test.
Sordo would drop 12.1s to the battlers behind him in one stage, a performance that saw his lead slashed to 15.3s in one go. Beating Ogier on the following stage nudged it back up to 16.1s, but that soon became 9.2s on the repeat pass of Cala Flumini as Ogier and Neuville traded blows. Sordo held his nerve though through the powerstage and claimed his third career victory in the WRC.
Ogier and Neuville headed into that stage split by just 1.7s, with Neuville arguably holding the upper hand having gone 1.6s quicker on the first pass of the test. But crucially, it was Ogier who held that second position.
Neuville gave it everything while suffering with a broken brake disc he was “pumping” in the last mile of the stage, but he still pipped Ogier like he did for the rally win two years ago.
“I can hardly do more honestly, I’m on the limit. On this stage we knew Hyundai is very strong on this one but we tried so no regret,” Ogier said.
Evans headed to Sardinia as a potential world champion in waiting, with constant questions directed his way about potential championship titles. But that talk was soon diminished on Friday with the confirmation that Monza would be added to the 2020 schedule, making it mathematically impossible for Evans to seal the title in Italy.
The Toyota star had a fairly anonymous rally, shadowing Ogier throughout Friday but unable to keep up with him and Neuville once road conditions levelled out on Saturday. He wound up just under a minute behind third place in fourth; banking yet more vital championship points but perhaps knowing he’s going to have to beat Ogier on pace if he wants the 2020 title.
“For sure in terms of the speed there was a bit more we could have done [but] I’m not sure the position would have been so different,” he said.
Suninen’s fifth equalled M-Sport’s best result since the WRC restarted post-lockdown but was tinged with the knowledge that it could’ve potentially been much more.
“We were able to show really good pace on the slow stages but we are struggling on the fast stages so we need to improve on that,” Suninen commented.
Behind Suninen and Tänak, Pierre-Louis Loubet netted his best WRC finish to date with seventh spot and his first ever finish in a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC after late retirements in both Turkey and Estonia. His event wasn’t without mishap however, with a few wild moments rearranging the rear of his 2C Competition Hyundai.
Takamoto Katsuta and Gus Greensmith both failed to score top 10 finishes, but their issues differed wildly in nature. Toyota junior Katsuta had a gentle crash on Friday, clipping a bank on the inside of a tight right-hander and rolling onto his side.
Restarting on Saturday, he battled through brake problems late on to head into Sunday in a decent rhythm. But he would be rudely slammed back down to earth after clipping a bank over a small crest and rolling his Yaris WRC on the third to last stage.
Greensmith meanwhile had been comfortably ahead of Loubet and was up to sixth following Rovanperä’s crash, but retired on the road section before SS10 when an alternator belt was damaged after being penetrated by a large rock.
His Fiesta WRC then momentarily died on the powerstage as he restarted on Sunday with what he suspected was an electrical issue.
Jari Huttunen claimed eighth overall to become the first repeat winner of the 2020 WRC3 season in a Hyundai i20 R5, over a minute ahead of Kajetan Kajetanowicz who had been just 5.5s behind before a puncture on the penultimate test.
Huttunen’s result draws him just two points behind Marco Bulacia in the championship with Bulacia sealing third in Italy. Oliver Solberg had looked set for the victory before two punctures and a small mistake that led to a trip into a ditch on Saturday’s final stage wrecking his charge.
Pontus Tidemand sealed 10th overall on his first ever visit to Sardinia, grabbing his third WRC2 victory of the season with it to boost his championship lead. Despite a damper issue and picking up four punctures – to Tidemand’s none – throughout the rally including one on the powerstage, Hyundai’s Ole Christian Veiby finished just behind his rival. Eyvind Brynildsen was third.
Mads Østberg was the Rally2 paceman in Italy but was never able to challenge after running with just rear-wheel-drive for four stages on Friday. He finished fourth, with Adrien Fourmaux retiring after challenging for the lead on Friday. A broken suspension arm on Saturday was what ruled the M-Sport man out.
Tom Kristensson won the Junior WRC category by over 10 minutes as chief rivals Mārtiņš Sesks and Sami Pajari both broke driveshafts throughout the course of the weekend. Fabrizio Zaldivar claimed second ahead of Sesks who recovered to third, albeit half an hour shy of Kristensson, such was the attrition in Sardinia.
Petter Solberg was a guest addition to the powerstage behind the wheel of a Pirelli-shod Citroën C3 WRC with Andreas Mikkelsen in the co-driving seat.
The exercise was a promotional one from Pirelli who will become the sole tire supplier for Rally1 in the WRC next year, but was also a chance for Solberg to try the latest generation of Rally1 car for the first time.
“It was really good fun!” he said. “I did three runs on the shakedown and coming here to try this like a warm-up for the tires next year. It was very difficult, very tricky but Andreas did a very good job co-driving, almost like Phil Mills!
“Aw, I have no words left,” Mikkelsen added. “Well driven.”
1 Tänak (Hyundai) 4m45.730s
2 Neuville (Hyundai) +0.682s
3 Ogier (Toyota) +3.442s
4 Evans (Toyota) +5.301s
5 Sordo (Hyundai) +6.521s
6 Suninen (M-Sport) +7.162s
Final Rally Italy positions
1 Sordo (Hyundai) 2h41m37.5s
2 Neuville (Hyundai) +5.1s
3 Ogier (Toyota) +6.1s
4 Evans (Toyota) +1m02.3s
5 Suninen (M-Sport Ford) +1m33.9s
6 Tänak (Hyundai) +2m27.5s
7 Loubet (2C Competition Hyundai) +4m43.8s
8 Huttunen (Hyundai) +8m41.7s
9 Kajetanowicz (Škoda) +10m02.9s
10 Tidemand (Škoda) +10m20.9s