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Stage report
WRC Rally Italy

WRC Rally Sardinia: Ogier hangs onto lead as Fourmaux grinds to a halt

Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier leads Rally Italia Sardinia from Hyundai’s Ott Tanak after an eventful start to the World Rally Championship’s new shorter sprint rally concept.

The eight-time world champion claimed two of Friday afternoon’s four gravel stages that made up a much shorter leg than usual courtesy of the WRC’s trial of a new event format.

Starting fifth on the road, Ogier made the most of his road position and managed to hold off charge from Hyundai’s Tanak to take a 4.5s lead into Saturday.

Hyundai’s Dani Sordo enjoyed a strong finish to the day to jump up to third [+33.2s] as Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta slotted into fourth [+34.5s]. Championship leader Thierry Neuville faced the worst of the road conditions and managed to limit his time loss to 36.6s to sit fifth, while nearest title rival Elfyn Evans ended the loop a further 20.7s behind in sixth.

M-Sport Ford’s Gregorie Munster completed the Rally1 field in seventh after team-mate Adrien Fourmaux retired with an issue.

The second pass through the afternoon’s earlier stages proved much more abrasive compared to the first pass, which meant the focus was on preserving tyres.

Rally leader Ogier responded to Tanak’s victory on stage two that had closed the gap to 1.8s and, having won the first pass of the Osilo-Tergu, 25.65km stage, he added another stage victory on the second pass which hosted stage three.

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

Ogier opted not to push as hard as he did in the first run but was still able to beat Tanak by 2.9s to open up his lead to 4.7s - while Tanak was also managing his rubber.

Tyre trouble reared its head again as third-placed Fourmaux developed a slow left-rear puncture five kilometres into the stage. The M-Sport driver was able to reach the stage end but by then the tyre had delaminated, ripping the bodywork from the rear of his Puma. Fourmaux ceded 49.9s in the process as he plummeted from third to sixth in the overall standings.

Sordo capitalised on Fourmaux’s problem to leapfrog Katsuta and the French driver to move to third after posting the third fastest stage time, 8.8s slower than Ogier.

The recovering Evans managed to take 1.2s out of Neuville on the stage but remained in seventh after his costly puncture on the day’s opening stage. Evans had to be cautious running without a spare.

"I don’t seem to be struggling quite as bad with the rotation of the car but I’m not really putting it down to the car in fairness, generally we just seem to be struggling for pace especially in some sections of stages," said Evans.

"We have got an idea where it [the struggles] are coming from but rectifying it is not easy."

However, Fourmaux’s woes continued in stage four [Sedini-Castelsardo 13.26km], as he ground to halt 2.3km into the stage with an electrical issue, which required Fourmaux and co-driver Alexandre Coria to work on the car.

"Sadly he had some kind of alternator issue and he had no power left. It is pretty disappointing obviously, but it is hard to say when we don’t know much," M-Sport team principal Richard Millener told Motorsport.com. 

"We need to see what has happened for sure it is frustrating for Adrien. We need to check to see if something has happened when he got the punctures and something has overheated the car at the end of the stage, we don’t know."

M-Sport was hopeful that Fourmaux will be able to rejoin the rally on Saturday.

Neuville emerged with an impressive stage win by 3.7s as the Belgian pipped a frustrated team-mate Tanak, who again was without hybrid power. 

“This has been the hardest day you could imagine, the worst stages to get through. Luckily it was only half a day, we had a good tyre management,” said Neuville.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Ogier clocked the third-fastest time dropping 0.2s to Tanak in the process, although the Toyota driver reported that he lost time passing Fourmaux’s stricken Puma.

In WRC2, Toyota driver Sami Pajari led the class sitting in eighth position overall.

Eight stages await the crews on Saturday, comprising 149 kilometres of timed running.

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