Toyota’s Sébastien Ogier has strengthened his hold on the top of the drivers’ standings after claiming his third win (after Montecarlo & Croatia) of the season at the Italian Rally this Sunday. His teammate Elfyn Evans came in second, wrapping up a very valuable 1-2 for the Japanese team.
Thierry Neuville, the only member of Hyundai to see the checkered flag, came in third at the fifth round of the WRC 2021 season, to claim his fourth podium of the year. The Belgian driver has saved face for the South Korean team, which endured another dreadful weekend.
Saturday was a day to forget for Andrea Adamo’s team. In a repeat of what happened in Portugal, Ott Tänak had to quit the race when he was running leader and Dani Sordo followed suit soon after. Freed of his opponents, Ogier could comfortably concentrate on managing his unrivalled lead.
Evans, his greatest rival for the crown, threw an attempt to steal first place on Sunday, but the experience of the seven-time champion prevailed over the impetus of the young Briton. Ogier just had to keep an eye on the Welsh warrior, who managed to claim two stages to his name (SS17, SS19) on the final day.
The French driver took his 52nd win and 88th podium in the WRC, stretching his distance with the Welshman to 11 points (106-95), nine more than he had when he arrived in Italy. Ogier also managed to cut into Evans lucky streak.
As in 2020, we can expect the vibrant head-to-head between the two rivals to last for the rest of the season. This weekend, luck has been on Ogier’s side but it is clear that both drivers are going to have to sweat the title out.
Saturday: Ogier takes the lead following Hyundai’s debacle
The day began just as the previous one had ended, with Tänak imposing a pace unattainable to his pursuers. The driver from Kärla extended his lead to 40.8 seconds in the first two morning stages; in the third one, however, things turned sour for the Hyundai driver.
At the last leg of the morning (SS12) and just before heading to the service park, Tänak hit a stone and broke the left rear suspension of his i20 WRC. It was farewell to his winning chances. Ogier inherited the head of the race, followed by Sordo (+ 17.5s) and Evans (+ 32.1s).
But the nightmare for the Alzenau’s squad had only just begun. Three stages later (SS15), at the penultimate stage of the day, Sordo’s i20 Coupé WRC crashed out when he was running second. The Spaniard exited the track, collided with an obstacle and overturned, losing his right rear wheel as a result of the impact.
From then on, the Frenchman managed both his advantage and his tires to perfection winning five out of the eight stages of the day. His performance earned him a 38.9-second advantage over Evans and a one minute one over Neuville, the sole survivor of the Hyundai fiasco.
Friday: Tänak dominates
The Rally Sardinia started with a dominant display from Tänak. Setting a ferocious pace, the 2019 world champion won the first five stages and finished second in two out of the eight that made up Friday’s route.
His partner Sordo managed to keep up at a distance to finish 19.4 seconds behind the Estonian and with an income of 16.8 seconds over Ogier. Opening the track didn’t make much of a difference to the Frenchman, a circumstance that would prove to be key for the development of the race.
Images of Rally Italia-Sardegna: WRC.