Dani Sordo strengthened his lead at Rally Italia Sardegna on Saturday in his pursuit of back-to-back victories on the Mediterranean island.
The Spaniard completed the penultimate leg of this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship with a 27.4s advantage. In a frantic battle behind, Sébastien Ogier edged Thierry Neuville in the day’s final speed test to reclaim second.
Sordo, who scored a dramatic last-gasp victory in 2019, won one of the six gravel speed tests in the north of the island in a Hyundai i20. But that was enough to stretch his overnight advantage by 10s with Sunday’s short finale remaining.
“It’s a good feeling to be here,” he said. “This afternoon I was managing my tyres. It’s important to keep Seb and Thierry in the back. I know them both and they will try tomorrow. We need to keep concentrated to the end, until the very last kilometre.”
Teemu Suninen, second after Friday’s leg in a Ford Fiesta, fell back from the podium scrap to leave Ogier and Neuville in a titanic duel for second and the opportunity to reduce their points deficit to championship leader Elfyn Evans.
Frenchman Ogier demoted Neuville in the opening test, only for the Belgian to reverse the places in the morning’s final special stage. But a minor error near the finish of the last test when he slid into a bale allowed Ogier back in front by 1.5s.
“I was trying very hard and I lost maybe 2s on the bridge when I was a little bit too late on the brakes. When you push to the maximum that happens,” admitted the i20 driver.
Ogier won four tests in his Toyota Yaris and the duelling duo were half a minute clear of fifth-placed Evans. The Welshman lost time this morning with an overly-cautious approach to protect his tyres while, in contrast, too much aggression this afternoon cost vital seconds.
A differential problem, which affected the use of his Ford Fiesta’s handbrake in tight corners, slowed Suninen this morning. The Finn was back to full speed after the mid-leg service and had almost 1m 20s in hand over labouring world champion Ott Tänak in sixth.
Gus Greensmith retired his Fiesta from sixth after the alternator belt broke while Kalle Rovanperä’s weekend turned from bad to worse. After a troubled day yesterday, the young Finn ripped both rear wheels off his Yaris after drifting wide and bouncing off two trees.
Sunday’s final leg is based in the island’s north-west. Cala Flumini (14.06km) and the stunning coastal Sassari – Argentiera (6.89km) are driven twice, with the latter forming the final bonus-points paying Wolf Power Stage, before the afternoon finish in Alghero.
1. D Sordo / C del Barrio ESP Hyundai i20 2hr 14min 35.5s
2. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Toyota Yaris +27.4s
3. T Neuville / N Gilsoul BEL Hyundai i20 +28.9s
4. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota Yaris +58.4s
5. T Suninen / J Lehtinen FIN Ford Fiesta +1min 06.9s
6. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Hyundai i20 +2min 25.3s