Sébastien Ogier is potentially just three stages away from a seventh World Rally Championship title as he leads the Monza Rally at the end of Saturday, a day in which points leader Elfyn Evans crashed out.
Evans had been third, just 0.8 seconds behind second-placed Dani Sordo and 7.5s behind his rally-leading Toyota team-mate when he braked on a patch of ice and lost the rear of his Toyota on SS11. The Yaris was pitched into a spin, fell down a bank and wasn’t going to escape.
That handed the onus to Ogier who now has a golden chance to grab the title from Evans’ clutches. After four complete stages – six were scheduled but two were then canceled – in the mountains, the final stage of Saturday (Grand Prix) was back within the confines of the Monza circuit and won by Hyundai’s Sordo.
Ogier will take a 17.8s lead over the Spaniard to bed with him and with just three stages, all around Monza, to run on Sunday. The title fight isn’t necessarily over though, as Ogier needs to finish to collate the necessary points to win while Ott Tänak, currently third overall, is still able to be champion if he outscores Ogier by 14 points and Evans grabs no more than two powerstage points tomorrow if he can return to action.
“It’s been a really demanding day, especially this afternoon. We are here and for sure now the aim is to finish,” commented Tänak.
New title favorite Ogier was aware of what he has to do: “Definitely for sure we still need to score the points,” he affirmed. “At the moment if you look at the classification Elfyn is 14 points ahead so we need to score the points.”
Sordo meanwhile reckons Ogier “is a little bit too far” ahead of him and needs to decide whether to push for the win or play it safe and bank crucial points of Hyundai’s manufacturers’ championship hopes.
“If we can do flat out and safe it’s nice,” he joked.
M-Sport Ford’s Esapekka Lappi began Saturday just a second shy of then-rally leader Sordo, but slipped back throughout the morning and then was caught out in the afternoon when he was misinformed about the weather. Lappi’s team had told him it was wet, but in fact it was snowy.
He had taken three snow tires in his six-tire package when all of his rivals took just two, and said at the end of the day: “At least it was really nice to drive again on the forest stages on Tarmac, I really enjoyed the morning.
“We had really good tire choices today we just didn’t know how to use them so that was a mistake and in the end we were a little unlucky with the cancellation of the stages because we had the right tires, but that’s how it is sometimes.”
Lappi is fourth, 31.9s ahead of Toyota’s Kalle Rovanperä im a lonely fifth. Rovanperä clouted a bank on Saturday’s first stage and reduced his pace thereafter, preferring to be cautious and ensure he keeps it on the road.
Catching Lappi will be the target though because, as things stand, Hyundai is set to pip Toyota to the manufacturers’ title.
Andreas Mikkelsen is a strong sixth overall and leads WRC3 but has Oliver Solberg breathing down his neck, just 14.3s behind. Jari Huttunen is on course for the title however as he’s third in class and eighth overall, ending his day with the sixth fastest time on the Grand Prix stage.
Mads Østberg is in the box seat for the WRC2 title in ninth overall, 29.9s up on class rival Pontus Tidemand who is behind WRC3’s Emil Lindholm on the overall leaderboard. Adrien Fourmaux was leading in WRC2 only to get caught out on SS11, clip a rock-face and damage a steering arm and suspension part. He got to the end of the day, albeit 26 minutes down, but also with an impressive Grand Prix showing.
1 Sordo (Hyundai) 5m47.8s
2 Katsuta (Toyota) +0.6s
3 Tänak (Hyundai) +2.4s
4 Ogier (Toyota) +2.6s
5 Lappi (M-Sport Ford) +2.8s
6 Huttunen (Hyundai) +5.5s
Leading positions after SS13
1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) 1h47m47.2s
2 Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio (Hyundai) +17.8s
3 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +22.1s
4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (M-Sport Ford) +38.2s
5 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +1m10.1s
6 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jæger (Škoda) +3m20.6s
7 Oliver Solberg/Aaron Johnston (Škoda) +3m34.9s
8 Jari Huttunen/Mikko Lukka (Hyundai) +4m08.9s
9 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) +4m39.0s
10 Emil Lindholm/Mikael Korhonen (Škoda) +5m06.6s