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Stage report
WRC Rally Italy

WRC Rally Sardinia: Ogier claims early lead as Evans suffers puncture

Sebastien Ogier completed the opening loop of a new shorter Rally Sardinia with a slender lead from Ott Tanak, while World Rally Championship title contender Elfyn Evans suffered a puncture.

Toyota part-time driver Ogier made the most of his favourable road position to win one of the two afternoon tests to lead Hyundai’s Tanak by 1.8s.

M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux completed the loop in third [+10.5s], ahead of Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta [+13.5s], with the third Hyundai of Dani Sordo fifth [16.5s].

Championship leader Thierry Neuville limited the damage of starting first on the road to hold sixth [23.4s], 10.9s faster than title rival Evans in eighth, behind leading WRC2 runner Sami Pajari.

M-Sport’s Gregoire Munster and Citroen WRC2 driver Yohan Rossel completed the top 10. 

Friday proved to be a case of damage limitation for those starting at the top of the road order given the dusty gravel roads, although there was a thought that the overall Friday time loss could be less given the reduced mileage, courtesy of the new 16-stage, 48-hour format.  

However, the road cleaning effect was laid bare in the first stage of the rally, a 25.65km blast through Osilo-Tergu.

As anticipated, championship leader Neuville and his nearest rival Evans struggled, as the pair dropped almost half a minute. Neuville declared there “was no grip at all” while Evans fared better on time but suffered a left-rear puncture which left the Welshman without a spare wheel for the remaining three stages.

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Rally Portugal winner Ogier was on hand to capitalise on his starting berth as he set a blistering effort to claim the stage and move into an early lead. The Frenchman set a benchmark 7.7s faster than Tanak, who impressed thanks to a gusty effort from third on the road.

“I tried hard, it’s very slippery and loose, especially in the narrow where it is so difficult to get the traction,” said Tanak.

Sordo had an even better starting position than Tanak, but he couldn’t match his team-mate, posting a time 14.5s slower than Ogier. M-Sport’s Fourmaux achieved an identical time to sit third ahead of Katsuta, fast-starting WRC2 runner Sami Pajari and Munster.

Tanak’s strong start to the rally continued into stage two [Sedini – Castelsardo 13.26km] despite his i20 N suffering a loss of hybrid power. His effort was enough to win the stage and close the gap to rally leader Ogier to 1.8s, the latter taking a cautious approach in the stage.

Despite opening the road, Neuville was able to issue a response to stem the time loss by delivering an eye-catching run. He reached the stage end 1.2s slower than Tanak.  

While Fourmaux reported that he was fighting for control of his Ford Puma, the Frenchman was third fastest on the stage, beating Katsuta, Ogier and Sordo. 

After suffering a puncture in the previous test, Evans had to take extra care but was clearly struggling behind the wheel, losing a further 13.5s.

“I wasn’t expecting anything that bad to be fair,” said Evans at the stage end. When asked if taking only one spare was a brave call, he added: “Now, obviously yes.”

A pair of stages conclude Friday’s action this evening.

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