Hyundai's Dani Sordo led Rally Italia Sardegna on Friday night as the captivating three-way battle in the FIA World Rally Championship took many twists and turns on hot and dusty Mediterranean island roads.
The Spaniard finished a drama-filled leg with a 10.8sec advantage over M-Sport Ford’s Teemu Suninen.
Ott Tänak, the only driver of the title-tussling trio to steer clear of trouble, was a further 0.4sec back in a Toyota Yaris. Championship leader Sébastien Ogier retired with damaged suspension and Thierry Neuville suffered a series of setbacks.
On a day in which five drivers led, Sordo moved to the front during the afternoon. Although he won just one of the eight rocky and abrasive dirt road speed tests, he pulled clear in the final three after he and Tänak were tied at the top.
Sandy tracks covering a rocky base meant early starters struggled for grip. As one of the last frontrunners to start, Sordo benefited from a cleaner and faster line as those ahead swept the sand away.
“It was a hard day with high temperatures inside the cars and for the tyres, but I was on the right pace all the time. We had a little bit of an advantage because we started further back. I really want to fight for the victory, but it will be tough to hold off Ott,” Sordo said.
Six-time champion Ogier had a disastrous day. He was almost 30sec off the lead in ninth when he hit a rock which shattered his Citroën C3’s suspension. Retirement was instant.
Neuville, third in the title fight, salvaged a ragged day to finish seventh. The Belgian twice made a wrong tyre choice, while a series of off-road errors, one of which followed a pace note mix-up and damaged his i20’s radiator, cost more time.
M-Sport’s young Finnish star Suninen was the early leader in a Ford Fiesta after winning two stages, but a spin set him back. A third stage victory helped to regain lost ground and he edged back ahead of Tänak in the final test.
Despite opening the roads following Ogier’s retirement, Tänak excelled to head Andreas Mikkelsen’s hyundai by 9.0sec. Elfyn Evans was only a tenth behind in fifth, despite overshooting a hairpin in his Fiesta.
Jari-Matti Latvala led after the morning loop but it went badly wrong in the afternoon when he rolled his Toyota Yaris. He battled on without a windscreen and remarkably won the next stage, but retired after going off the road in the final test.
Saturday is the longest leg of this eight round of 14 in the 2019 WRC. Three tightly-clustered stages east of Alghero are driven morning and afternoon, adding up to 142.42km.
The highlight is the famous Micky’s Jump in the Monte Lerno test, where cars fly high as the road literally drops away beneath them.
Outright standings after Friday:
1 Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 1h36m01.5s
2 Teemu Suninen/Jarmo Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +10.8s
3 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +11.2s
4 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger-Amland (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +20.2s
5 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +20.3s
6 Kris Meeke/Seb Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +29.5s
7 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +57.7s
8 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +1m03.5s
9 Juho Hänninen/Tomi Tuominen (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2m38.0s
10 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (Skoda Fabia R5) +2m50.3s
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