Thierry Neuville distanced Jari-Matti Latvala with a powerful Saturday afternoon charge to carry a healthy lead into tomorrow’s final leg of Rally Italia Sardegna.
Latvala reduced Neuville’s Friday night lead to less than three seconds this morning as handling issues hindered the Hyundai i20 driver. But the Belgian [above] won two of this afternoon’s three speed tests to rebuild his lead and end 16.1sec clear.
High temperatures, rocky gravel roads and heavy rain presented a tough challenge in a day which contained more than half the event’s distance and Neuville was up to it.
“The car was amazing to drive in slippery conditions,” he said. “We’ve had another good day and it was a pleasure to fight Jari-Matti. Tomorrow will be tough but we’ll prepare properly and continue fighting.”
An overnight gearbox change left Latvala more confident with his Volkswagen Polo R’s handling. After eating into Neuville’s lead he looked certain to move ahead but applauded his rival’s drive through the final marathon 44.26km Monte Lerno test.
“I can’t do better than that. I did a really good run and if Thierry is faster then respect to him. I was a bit too careful earlier this afternoon, but sometimes you have to play safe,” said Latvala.
Championship leader Sébastien Ogier was 58.9sec adrift of Latvala in third. As road opener he endured the worst of the conditions, cleaning the dry gravel off the surface to leave better grip for those behind.
Less than four seconds covered Ogier, Mads Østberg and Andreas Mikkelsen after the morning as the Norwegian duo closed on the struggling Frenchman. However, both Scandinavians retired in the afternoon to leave Ogier over a minute clear of Dani Sordo.
Mikkelsen was first to go, exiting fifth with a broken track control arm on his Polo R after hitting a rock. Then Østberg parked his Ford Fiesta RS near the finish of the final stage after clipping a rock and breaking the front right suspension.
Sordo survived a sticking throttle to head Ott Tänak by 2min 31.4sec. The Estonian had tyre problems in the high temperatures but showed his pace by winning the day’s second test.
Henning Solberg completed the top six ahead of Eric Camilli, who produced the best gravel performance of his career with top three times in all three morning tests. The rest of the leaderboard was unconfirmed pending clarification of times on a disrupted Monte Lerno stage (SS12).
Haydon Paddon did not restart after yesterday’s crash while Hyundai team-mate Kevin Abbring celebrated the first stage win of his career before a double puncture and gearbox problems slowed him.