Ott Tänak charged into the lead of Rally Italia Sardegna on Saturday morning with a remarkable clean sweep of speed test victories.
Stage info: SS11/12
SS11: Monti di Ala’ 1, 28.21km
Monti di Ala’ is tackled in a similar format to last year, but with a new final section. Much of the test lies within a wind farm and roads twist across a hillside via fast corners, although there is a series of hairpins just after the midpoint. The surface is a blend of sandy gravel and rocks. One of the fastest stages of the rally.
SS12: Monte Lerno 1, 28.03km
Monte Lerno is all about the famous Micky’s Jump at 3.8km, one of the WRC’s iconic locations at which cars fly high as the road literally drops away beneath them. Before that, drivers negotiate a tricky corner alongside a lake where Lorenzo Bertelli rolled in 2016. The Filigosu watersplash has been reinserted before the finish. The roads are mainly wide, although the final kilometres contain narrow, bumpy and rough parts. Just a 1800m liaison section separates this from the previous test and it is sure to be one of the key stages.
Having started the longest and toughest leg 11.2sec adrift of overnight leader Dani Sordo, the Toyota Yaris driver completed the morning’s three special stages with a 6.4sec advantage over the Spaniard.
After winning the opening test, the Estonian defeated Sordo by 2.1sec in the following Monti di Ala’. He saved the best until last by destroying the Hyundai i20 pilot by 9.0sec in the closing Monte Lerno stage - despite stalling his engine in a hairpin.
Tänak opted for a mix of Michelin’s medium and hard compound tyres and said: “It was definitely the right choice. We had to try hard and I knew we would benefit from our tyres in this first run through the stages.”
Sordo did little wrong. Using hard tyres, he was second fastest in all three stages but could do nothing to halt the Tänak juggernaut.
“We lost a lot of time spinning the wheels, it was so difficult. I didn’t drive very well because I couldn’t even control the car. It will be difficult with Ott but I’ll keep trying,” he said.
Teemu Suninen fell away from the battle to return to the Alghero service park 27.1sec off the lead. Nevertheless the Finn delivered a trio of third fastest times in his Ford Fiesta after a strategic approach.
“I was a bit careful with hard tyres in slippery places. We tried to manage this loop with just four tyres so now we have more to use in the rest of the rally,” he explained.
Elfyn Evans and Andreas Mikkelsen fought furiously for fourth. They traded places on every stage, Evans ending with a 2.6sec advantage in his Ford Fiesta after the Norwegian ran wide and clipped a wall at the finish of Monte Lerno.
Kris Meeke was 10.8sec back in sixth in another Yaris, ahead of a despondent Thierry Neuville. The Belgian was unhappy with his choice of hard tyres and added: “Something is wrong, I can’t drive the car and there is no confidence to push. We need to investigate.”
Esapekka Lappi was another to regret his choice of hard rubber. He was eighth in a Citroën C3 ahead of WRC 2 leader Kalle Rovanperä and WRC 2 frontrunner Pierre-Louis Loubet.
It was another disappointing morning for Sébastien Ogier. Returning after yesterday’s crash, the Frenchman hit another rock and broke his C3’s rear suspension arm. They made roadside repairs before limping through the final Monte Lerno stage.