Ogier closes in on WRC Rally Italy Sardinia win as title chasers falter

Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier is closing in on a third straight FIA World Rally Championship win after distancing his nearest rival, Hyundai’s Ott Tanak, on Saturday’s grueling second leg of Rally Italy Sardinia.

The eight-time WRC champ (above), who’s running only a part-time schedule in 2024, will start Sunday’s final leg with a 17.1s advantage over Tanak after a turbulent day which included four lead changes and saw WRC points leader Thierry Neuville crash out.

Fortune initially favored Hyundai i20 N Rally1 driver Tanak when overnight leader Ogier’s decision to carry only one spare wheel for the morning tests backfired. A deflated tire on Ogier’s Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 forced him to use the same set of rubber for three increasingly rough and abrasive stages. After trading positions three times, the 40-year-old Frenchman trailed Estonian Tanak by 3.5s at the mid-leg tire fitting zone.


In the afternoon’s classic loop of stages around Monte Lerno, however, Ogier threw caution to the wind. With Tanak’s pace dropping away — the 2019 WRC title winner hinting that it was because he’d been instructed to play it safe — Ogier stormed back into the lead after just one stage and went on to post a trio of benchmark times.

Ott Tanak led after the morning loop, but was advised to back off in the afternoon by his Hyundai team… Jaanus Ree /Red Bull Content Pool

A win on Sunday for Ogier would follow back-to-back victories on Croatian asphalt and Portuguese gravel, and could see him confirm his place as the most successful driver in Rally Italy Sardinia history.

“It has been a positive day, and an even more positive afternoon,” said Ogier after the day’s eighth and final stage. “This morning’s stages were very rough, but I enjoyed the afternoon so much more and it was a pleasure to drive the car.”

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville arrived in Sardinia with a 24-point championship lead over Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Elfyn Evans, and looked set to increase that margin after climbing from fifth to third early in the day. But his podium hopes went awry when he misjudged a braking point in the final stage before the mid-leg regroup, sliding his i20 N Rally1 off the road, down a bank and into retirement.

Takamoto Katsuta was elevated to the final podium spot as a result, but the Japanese rising star’s time inside the top three was short lived. His GR Yaris Rally1 developed a transmission issue which proved terminal on the afternoon’s first test. The drama up front opened the door for Dani Sordo to complete the leading trio in the third of the factory Hyundais. Still struggling to find his rhythm in only his second WRC start of the season, the Spanish part-timer trailed teammate Tanak by almost two minutes, with Evans a further 30.5s behind.

Toyota’s Elfyn Evans sits in an off-the-pace fourth, but Thierry Neuville’s exit could be good for his WRC title tilt. Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT photo

Thanks to the attrition among the leading cars, M-Sport Ford’s Gregoire Munster rounded out the top five in his Puma Rally1, albeit more than five minutes off the lead pace.

In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 driver Sami Pajari continues to put on a masterclass in sixth place overall. The 22-year-old Finn expanded his lead to 54.7s over Yohan Rossel’s Citroen C3, with Jan Solans in another GR Yaris maintaining his impressive form in third.

Such was Pajari’s pace that he was battling Munster’s Ford Puma Rally1 for a top-five place on the overnight leaderboard, before easing slightly on the day’s final stage to sit just 9.7s behind the Luxembourg driver.

Sami Pajari built his WRC2 class lead and even challenged for an overall top-five spot in his Toyota GR Yaris Rally2. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Sunday’s short, sharp final leg is centered northwest of Alghero and includes two loops of two stages for a total of just 24.42 competitive miles. It ends with the bonus points-paying Wolf Power Stage — the 4.41-mile Sasseri-Argentiera 2 test, which finishes amid spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea.

WRC Rally Italy Sardinia, positions after Leg Two, SS12
1 Sebastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 2h39m43.2s
2 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +17.1s
3 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +2m12.8s
4 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +2m43.3s
5 Gregoire Munster/Louis Louka (Ford Puma Rally1) +5m28.8s
6 Sami Pajari/Enni Malkonen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 – WRC2 leader) +5m38.5s
7 Yohan Rossel/Benajmin Boulloud (Citroen C3 – WRC2) +6m33.2s
8 Jan Solans/Rodrigo Sanjuan (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 – WRC2) +6m45.2s
9 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +8m12.1s
10 Martin Prokop/Michal Ernst (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +8m22.1s  

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Story originally appeared on Racer