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WRC - Commanding Ogier in front in Italy with Monte Lerno stage masterclass


2023 Rally Italia Sardegna - Friday afternoon

Sébastien Ogier leads Rally Italia Sardegna at Friday’s midday service halt after he claimed a pair of stage wins at the wheel of his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid.

The Frenchman, who is undertaking a partial campaign in this season’s FIA World Rally Championship, emerged from the three-stage loop a remarkable 16.3s 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 of a second across the opening pair of stages, it was in the hugely challenging Monte Lerno test where Ogier truly showcased his prowess.

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

“I like the long challenge,” he said. “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.”

M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s young gun Pierre-Louis Loubet completes the top three, despite encountering frustrations of his own. The Frenchman faced engine power loss issues when navigating the water splashes in his Puma Rally1 Hybrid but remained composed to trail Lappi by just 5.7s.

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

Katsuta, who was fastest on SS2, could have been sitting higher up the leaderboard if not for an overshoot towards the end of Monte Lerno, which cost approximately 20s.

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 more than three minutes.

Like team-mate Lappi, Thierry Neuville reported a lack of traction and trails Katsuta by one-tenth of a second in sixth overall. Behind him are Ott Tänak and Kalle Rovanperä, who faced the unenviable task of running second and first on the road respectively.

Teemu Suninen and Andreas Mikkelsen round out the top 10, the pair split by just 3.2s in the fight for the FIA WRC2 victory. Sami Pajari is the top FIA WRC2 Challenger driver ahead Miko Marczyk. Roope Korhonen leads FIA WRC3 with Diego Dominguez in front in FIA Junior WRC. Last season’s title winner Mauro Miele heads the WRC Masters Cup order.

The action continues with the rerun of the 10.71-kilometre Tantariles Zoris from 14:32 local time.