Sebastien Ogier will take a 1m 40s lead into the final day of Rally Italia Sardegna after he forced his way past team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala on Saturday’s final stage.
With top championship points at stake, the VW team-mates were determined not to concede any time to one another. But Latvala fired an early warning to Ogier on the very first test as he went 6.3s faster. That extended his lead to 28.7s.
However, Ogier wasn’t thinking about giving up. He immediately struck back on the next two stages. He snatched 11s on the first run through the 59.13km ‘Monte Lerno’ stage, before taking another 5.4s on the penultimate stage of the day. Heading into the final test, Latvala’s lead stood at an increasingly fragile 12.3s.
Ogier’s unrelenting pressure then paid the ultimate dividend on the second run through Monte Lerno as Latvala made a mistake. He allowed his VW Polo R WRC to stray off line and slam into a rock.
“It was my mistake,” he admitted afterwards. “The rear of the car jumped out of the ruts and we damaged the wheel on a rock. I had to stop and change it.”
Latvala’s unscheduled wheel change cost him almost two minutes and he eventually reached the stage finish 2m 13s down on his team-mate after battling with a long brake pedal for the rest of the stage.
Ogier’s job was done. He was the new rally leader.
With Latvala hitting trouble, Mads Ostberg inherited second place. He was 1m 40s behind Ogier’s Polo WRC at the final time control.
The Citroen driver had been battling with Andreas Mikkelsen for much of the day in a bid to hold on to his third place and he showed a clean pair of heels to his VW rival when Mikkelsen had to carry a broken damper into the final long stage.
Mikkelsen cautious approach meant he dropped into fourth place, 36s behind Latvala. Ostberg left the service park knowing he would only have a 21.3s advantage over the Finn heading into the final day. But he was confident he could hold Latvala off on the final four stages. “For sure, we can push harder if we need to tomorrow,” he said.
Elfyn Evans ended the day in fifth place after he was gifted a place when Robert Kubica ripped the right-front wheel off his Ford Fiesta RS WRC on SS12. Martin Prokop, who was suffering with severe back pain in the afternoon, completed the top six in his private Ford.
Henning Solberg’s Fiesta was seventh, albeit almost six minutes ahead of Kubica who was classified in eighth. Khalid Al-Qassimi’s Citroen DS3 WRC finished in ninth place, 1m 02s ahead of WRC 2 leader Lorenzo Bertelli in his Ford Fiesta RRC.