Fri 02 Jun 2023

Sparks fly as Lappi demotes Ogier in thrilling Friday showdown

Sparks flew on Friday at Rally Italia Sardegna as Esapekka Lappi demoted Sébastien Ogier in a gripping conclusion to Friday's opening leg, claiming the tiniest of overnight leads.

After one of the most daunting days thus far in this year's FIA World Rally Championship, where crews braved over 140km of rough gravel stages in changeable weather conditions, the duelling duo found themselves separated by a mere one-tenth of a second.

Ogier, contesting his fourth rally this year aboard a Toyota GR Yaris, started on the front foot and led by a seemingly comfortable 16.3sec at the day’s halfway point having blitzed his Finnish rival through the first pass of Monte Lerno, a whopping 49.90km in length.

But the Frenchman's advantage began to erode as the same three speed tests were repeated after lunch and Lappi, charging hard in his Hyundai i20 N, delivered the perfect response in Monte Lerno 2 - ultimately claiming the lead in the day’s finale.

“There was no need to push harder, one tenth is enough!” Lappi giggled at the stop line. “I’m glad to be at the finish, that was quite a tricky stage and we got a slow left rear puncture as well, so that started to disturb a bit. But we are here, everything is okay and we are looking forward to tomorrow."

Despite grappling with an intermittently functioning handbrake, Thierry Neuville fought his way up the leaderboard to make it two Hyundais in the top three. The Belgian trailed Ogier by 18.5sec at close of play with championship leader Kalle Rovanperä another 27.5sec behind.

Rovanperä had entered the final stage down in seventh overall but the wet conditions played to the Toyota Gazoo Racing driver’s favour - and to his early starting position. He posted the benchmark time, climbing three positions in the process.

Just 1.3sec behind was Takamoto Katsuta, who suffered a fright in the morning loop when he hit a rock after running wide in a left-hand bend. The mishap cost around 20sec and kept his Toyota mechanics busy in service.

A front right puncture towards the end of Monte Lerno left Elfyn Evans 18.2sec behind his team-mate in sixth overall. He headed M-Sport Ford’s Ott Tänak, who overcame a failing water pump, by 4.2sec.

WRC2 runners Sami Pajari, Adrien Fourmaux and Emil Lindholm completed the top 10 while Dani Sordo languished in 12th overall. The Spaniard rolled his Hyundai in SS4, losing more than three minutes in the process.

Pierre-Louis Loubet was Friday’s only casualty. Initially running third overall, the Frenchman incurred a three-minute time penalty when he couldn’t engage any gears prior to the start of SS5. Although the issue was swiftly resolved, Loubet faced further frustrations later in the day when he beached his Puma in a Monte Lerno ditch.

Saturday’s leg boasts double runs of Coiluna - Loelle (16.28km), Su Filigosu (19.57 km), Erula - Tula (21.92km) and Tempio Pausania (9.04 km). The eight tests add up to 133.62km.

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 8:30:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 9:30:00 AM