Ogier leads after rough, tough opening day on WRC Rally Italy Sardinia

Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier delivered a near-perfect performance to lead Hyundai’s Ott Tanak after Friday’s super-rough, incident-filled opening leg of WRC Rally Italy Sardinia.

Eight-time FIA World Rally Champion Ogier (above) is running a limited schedule in 2024, and despite winning two of his three starts so far, he sits only fifth in WRC points. Hence, he’d start day one of the season’s sixth round as fifth car on the road.  

The 40-year-old Frenchman capitalized on the increased traction offered by his later starting position to win two of the day’s four gravel special stages in his GR Yaris Rally1, ending the leg with a 4.5s advantage over i20 N driver Tanak.


Ogier’s only blot on the day was an overly cautious first run through the 8.24-mile Sedini-Castelsardo test, where he yielded 5.9s to Tanak while trying to conserve tires (to save weight, he’d opted to carry only one spare, instead of the allowed two). In the end, Pirelli’s hard compound rubber stood up to the test of the Mediterranean island’s high temperatures and rock-strewn roads.

“It’s good,” said Ogier after the final stage. “It’s been extremely rough and demanding for the tires and I am happy that we made it because it was challenging with only five tires.”

Tanak went fastest on the day’s second test, that first run through Sedini-Castelsardo, and despite losing hybrid boost on two occasions, second place overnight marks the Estonian’s strongest start to a rally so far this season.

Ott Tanak overcame hybrid issues to sit second overall in his Hyundai i20 N Rally1. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

His Hyundai teammate, Dani Sordo, completed the overnight podium a sizable 28.7s behind, only grabbing the position when M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 driver Adrien Fourmaux suffered a tire delamination on the third stage. Fourmaux, who was fourth in WRC points prior to Rally Italy, later retired with an electrical issue.

While the overnight fourth went the way of Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta, who noted that his GR Yaris felt quicker than the times he was posting, it was a testing afternoon for championship front-runners Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans, who held fifth and sixth respectively after starting in the worst possible road positions– first and second, where grip was at its lowest on the sandy gravel as the pair acted as unwitting road sweepers for the cars behind.

A leaking tire on his GR Yaris during the opening stage only compounded Evans’ frustrations, and the Welshman ended the day almost one minute adrift of the lead.

“That has definitely been the hardest day you could imagine to open the road in Sardinia,” bemoaned Hyundai driver Neuville, who headed Evans by 24 points in the WRC drivers’ standings before this round. “A tough day for us, but [we will] carry on…”

Starting first on the road in his Hyundai, WRC points leader Thierry Neuville struggled to sixth overall in the Sardinian dust. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Gregoire Munster completed the still-running Rally1 crews, the M-Sport Ford driver trailing Evans by 11.9s in seventh overall.

In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Sami Pajari pushed hard from the get-go, charging to a lead of 18.3s alongside co-driver Enni Mälkönen.

The former Junior WRC champion bookended his day with the quickest times on the opening and closing of the day’s four stages as he targets a maiden victory aboard a Toyota GR Yaris Rally2.

The Finn’s biggest threat came in the form of Pierre Louis-Loubet, who’s making only his second start of the season in a Skoda Fabia RS. The Corsica native won the day’s second stage to briefly take the overall lead by 1.2s.

But Loubet’s time at the top of the WRC2 leaderboard was short-lived after he was caught in the dust of Emil Lindholm, who’d pulled over to change a wheel on his Hyundai i20 N Rally2 in the third stage. Loubet completed that test only ninth quickest as a result and is awaiting a notional time to redress some of his loss.

Pajari moved back into the lead, completing the penultimate test just 0.6s down on stage winner Georg Linnamae’s GR Yaris before going 3.5s quicker than Loubet on the day’s final test.

Sami Pajari went full send right from the start in his Toyota GR Yaris Rally2, and it’s paying off for the WRC2 leader. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Saturday is Rally Italy’s longest leg, with eight special stages adding up to 92.58 competitive miles and no opportunity for midday service. The morning features double runs of Tempio Pausania and Tula, while the afternoon includes four tests in the Monte Lerno area, including the breathtaking Micky’s Jump on the 15.74-mile Monte Lerno stage.    

WRC Rally Italy Sardinia, positions after Leg One, SS4
1 Sebastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 53m43.1s
2 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +4.5s
3 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +33.2s
4 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +34.5s
5 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +36.6s
6 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +57.3s
7 Gregoire Munster/Louis Louka (Ford Puma Rally1) +1m09.2s
8 Sami Pajari/Enni Malkonen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 – WRC2 leader) +1m34.6s
9 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Loris Pascaud (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +1m52.9s
10 Jan Solans/Rodrigo Sanjuan (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 – WRC2) +2m03.2s

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Story originally appeared on Racer