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Stage report
WRC Rally Italy

WRC Sardinia: Neuville extends lead with first win of 2023 in sight

Thierry Neuville extended his Rally Sardinia lead on Sunday morning as the Hyundai driver closed in on his and the team’s first World Rally Championship victory of the season. 

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

Despite holding a healthy 36.4s overnight lead, Neuville elected to push while the majority of his rivals opted to preserve their cars and tyres.

Heading into the final two stages of the rally, the Belgian opened up a 43.0s lead over Hyundai team-mate Esapekka Lappi, while championship leader Kalle Rovanpera maintained a lonely third, 2m11.2s adrift.

Toyota’s Elfyn Evans cemented fourth ahead of Hyundai’s Dani Sordo, who completed the Rally1 field.   

Conditions were at least dry for the opening stage of the day albeit held under ominous overcast skies.

The stage was won by M-Sport’s Ott Tanak, who rejoined the rally after his team was successful in fixing the electrical issue triggered by a water splash that put him out of podium contention on Saturday. 

Tanak used the stage as a glorified test session to prepare for the visit to Kenya later this month.

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

Not wishing to cruise through Sunday’s four stages, Neuville pushed to trail Tanak by 4.3s as the rally leader and Evans set identical stage times.

"Just a clean drive through, just to keep the lead and get through the stages. With every stage start there's less mileage to go until the victory,” said Neuville. 

The majority of the Rally1 field elected to preserve their machinery for the upcoming Power Stage  including Rovanpera and his returning Toyota team-mates Takamoto Katsuta and Sebastien Ogier, the latter rejoining after crashing out of the lead yesterday on stage 15.

"We are just getting it through safely and trying to save tyres for the afternoon and the rain,” said Rovanpera.

Tanak offered a glimpse of his potential Power Stage pace by winning the first pass through the test, which hosted stage 17.

The M-Sport driver was 2.3s faster than Katsuta, with Ogier 5.4s adrift in third. Rally leader Neuville again elected not to back off to clock a time only 8.4s shy of Tanak.

It was enough to further extend his overall advantage over Lappi. While the pair cemented a 1-2 at the front for Hyundai, the third car driven by Sordo developed a misfire, resulting in the Spaniard dropping 43.9s.

Sordo continued to hold fifth overall with a 1m22.2s margin over sixth-placed Adrien Fourmaux, who held a 22.1s WRC2 class lead. 

A second pass through the pair of morning stages will conclude the rally. 

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