SS17/18: What a thriller!
Two speed tests remain at Rally Italia Sardegna and leader Sébastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville are separated by 1.3sec after an electrifying start to Sunday morning.
Stage info: SS17/18
SS17: Cala Flumini 1, 14.06km
Cala Flumini again opens Sunday’s action having twice formed the Power Stage. It begins on narrow hard-packed roads which are lined by stone walls. After a short asphalt stretch midway through, it turns towards the sea and becomes faster, before a tricky narrow section leading to the finish via a jump over a bridge.
SS18: Sassari - Argentiera 1, 6.96km
This spectacular test was first driven in 2016. After a bumpy but fast opening, it drops steeply downhill for the final 1.2km on sand alongside the sea, providing stunning views. It’s dusty throughout with tricky hairpins and hidden stones.
Ogier began the final leg 3.9sec clear of his Belgian rival, but Neuville (above) threw caution to the wind to win both the Cala Flumini and Sassari - Argentiera special stages in his Hyundai i20 and eat into the Frenchman’s advantage.
He gained 0.8sec in the opener and another 1.8sec in the next as he piled the pressure on Ogier with just a repeat of the two stages remaining.
“I just try to keep it on the road and push as much as I can without making stupid mistakes. I don’t know if it’s enough. At this level everyone is pushing hard and fighting with Ogier is the most difficult. I gave it everything. It’s still on!” said the fired up Neuville.
The tension was just as high in Ogier’s Ford Fiesta. “It’s tight! We’ll have to push to the end. We can always be a bit more aggressive but it’s a lot to risk,” he said.
Esapekka Lappi retained a comfortable third in his Toyota Yaris, while Hayden Paddon looked in control of his battle with Mads Østberg for fourth. He was quicker than the Norwegian in both tests to extend his advantage to 11.2sec.
“I’m just managing the gap now, I have to be smart,” said i20 pilot Paddon. “We’d like to drive faster but the points are more important.”
Østberg appeared resigned to fifth in his Citroën C3. “It’s difficult to push halfway, you need to be really committed here. I have to get to the end and I’m not willing to take the risks,” he said.
Jari-Matti Latvala restarted today following his heartbreaking retirement last night. The Toyota Yaris driver was quickly up to seventh after overhauling WRC 2 leader Jan Kopecký.
Saturday in Italy: Leading duo turn up the heat
Late heartbreak for Latvala
WRC 2 in Italy: Kopecký holds dominant lead
Czech driver comfortable at the top
SS13/14: Angry Ogier fired up
Frenchman stretches lead in absorbing duel