Ott Tänak has firmly stamped his authority on Rally Italy, taking his eighth stage win of the rally on Cala Flumini to extend his lead to 49.7s.
As the challenges from Toyota’s quick pairing of Esapekka Lappi and Elfyn Evans faded on the previous two days, Tänak has been a cut above the rest of the field since, winning stages without showing any sign of maximum attack.
It was more of the same on Sunday’s first test, as he clocked the fastest time by by 1.7s from Lappi – who restarted under super rally rules following his Saturday morning crash – despite Tänak admitting he was taking minimal risks.
“Today the priority is to drive through and bring the car home,” said Tänak.
One driver whose plan for the day had seemed unclear was second-placed Craig Breen.
M-Sport’s lead driver went into Sunday morning with 20.8s in hand over Dani Sordo, a gap not quite big enough to safely call the second step of the podium his.
A big push on the Rally Portugal powerstage had allowed Sordo to nick third place from Takamoto Katsuta at the last moment – but a repeat for second in Italy seems unlikely, as Breen gained another 3.2s on Sordo through Cala Flumini, much to his relief.
“I just tried to be very neat and tidy,” said Breen. “I didn’t know what Dani was going to do.
“I haven’t done that stage in a long time so I just tried to keep the nose clean. But that makes things a bit easier now.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet was only seventh-quickest of the Rally1s and has now fully fallen off the back of the podium fight. He had hovered close behind Breen and Sordo for much of Saturday but shipped another 7.7s to Sordo, putting him over half a minute behind the podium places.
There’s little for Loubet to worry about behind though, as Kalle Rovanperä is nearly a minute behind in fifth.
With no points on offer in the overall classification for rally restarters Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville, they cruised through the opener to save their tires for a push on the powerstage later in the day.
Both were slower than several of the leading WRC2 cars. “That’s the target; for the powerstage,” confirmed Neuville.
- Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) 8m30.2s
- Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota) +1.7s
- Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +3.7s
- Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +6.9s
- Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +11.8s
- Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +11.8s
- Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (M-Sport Ford) +14.6s
- Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +19.3s
- Jari Huttunen/ Mikko Lukka (M-Sport Ford) +20.2s
- Jan Solans /Rodrigo Sanjuan (Citroën) +22.7s
Leading positions after SS18
- Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) 2h52m05.8s
- Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +49.7s
- Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +1m13.7s
- Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (M-Sport Ford) +1m46.4s
- Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +2m42.5s
- Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +4m04.1s
- Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +5m15.1s
- Nikolay Gryazin/ Konstantin Aleksandrov (Škoda) +6m42.4s
- Jan Solans /Rodrigo Sanjuan (Citroën) +7m16.8s
- Jari Huttunen/ Mikko Lukka (M-Sport Ford) +7m31.9s