Fri 02 Jun 2023

Commanding Ogier grabs Italy lead with Monte Lerno masterclass

Sébastien Ogier showed his rivals a clean pair of heels with a dominant drive on Friday morning at Rally Italia Sardegna.

The Frenchman, who drives part-time for Toyota Gazoo Racing, emerged from the three-stage loop a remarkable 16.3sec clear of Hyundai rival and overnight leader Esapekka Lappi on his first gravel start since Guanajuato Rally México in March.

While the pair traded mere tenths across the opening pair of speed tests, it was in the daunting Monte Lerno stage where Ogier truly showcased his prowess.

Spanning a mighty 49.90km, the gruelling stage became Ogier’s happy hunting ground as he left his Finnish rival floundering, outpacing Lappi by 16.7sec to reach the mid-leg service holding a comfortable lead.

“I like the long challenge,” he smiled. “It’s always a chance to make a difference, but I didn’t know the difference would be that big! It was not so easy and super tricky in this last section.”

Lappi attributed his time loss to a lack of grip, potentially stemming from his decision to use two hard compound Pirelli tyres. Ogier, in contrast, maximised the extra traction offered by his soft compound rubber after equipping his car with only one hard tyre for the stage.

 “I was driving on the limit very often and once over it also - we went a bit wide,” Lappi revealed. “This one was bad with the grip level.”

Completing the early podium was M-Sport Ford young gun Pierre-Louis Loubet, despite encountering frustrations of his own. The Frenchman faced engine power loss issues when navigating the water splashes in his Puma but remained composed to trail Lappi by just 5.7sec.

Elfyn Evans made it two Toyotas inside the top four with a neat - if a little overcautious - drive. With Loubet only 3.7sec ahead of him and team-mate Takamoto Katsuta 4.2sec behind, the Welshman faces a tough battle when the stages are repeated this afternoon.

Katsuta could have been sitting higher up the leaderboard if not for an overshoot towards the end of Monte Lerno, which cost approximately 20sec. Dani Sordo came unstuck in similar fashion but faced heftier consequences when his Hyundai rolled down an embankment. The Spaniard limped to the finish but plummeted down the order, losing over three minutes.

Thierry Neuville was, like colleague Lappi, lacking traction and trailed Katsuta by just one-tenth of a second in sixth overall. Behind him were Ott Tänak and Kalle Rovanperä, who faced the unenviable task of running second and first on the road respectively.

Teemu Suninen and Andreas Mikkelsen rounded out the top 10, the pair split by just 3.2sec in the fight for WRC2 victory.

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