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WRC Rally Italy

WRC Sardinia: Neuville heads Hyundai 1-2 after Ogier crashes out

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville leap-frogged his World Rally Championship team-mate Esapekka Lappi to lead Rally Sardinia after Sebastien Ogier crashed out when heavy rain hit the stages.

Ogier started the day 0.1 seconds behind Lappi but managed to overhaul the Finn to take an 18.2s lead into the afternoon.

Lappi reduced Ogier's lead across the afternoon before the latter ran off the road in stage 14, handing Neuville, who won five of the day's eight stages, the lead over Lappi by 36.4s.

World champion Kalle Rovanpera inherited third (+1m50.7s) after a trouble-free run, while Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans overcame significant time loss in water splashes to sit fourth (+5m36.5s). Hyundai's Dani Sordo (+6m27.9s) completed the Rally1 field.

M-Sport's Ott Tanak and Toyota's Takamoto Katsuta retired after suffering damage incurred in water splashes in the morning.

Following on from the morning loop, water splashes created yet more drama as the forecasted heavy rain showers finally arrived.

Light rain started to fall in the first stage of the afternoon but it was a water splash,  not the weather, that provided the catalyst for drama.

The same water crossing that put Katsuta out of action caught out rally leader Ogier. The Frenchman arrived at the water splash too fast, resulting in damage to his GR Yaris, which ingested fluid that sapped power towards the end of the stage.

Ogier dropped 7.7s to his nearest rival Lappi, who took full advantage of the Toyota driver's error by winning the stage. Third-placed Neuville also took time out of Ogier, as he started to close the gap to the front runners.

The drama continued to unfold when the crews headed to stage 13 (Su Filigosu), The isolated rain showers started to intensify before turning torrential for the final four Rally1 crews, creating extremely slippery conditions.

But again it was the water crossing that wreaked havoc. Toyota's Elfyn Evans, who hit trouble in another water splash in the first pass of the stage, produced a carbon copy of Tanak's incident.

Water poured over the bonnet, which brought the Welshman to a halt with the finish line in sight. He was able to engage EV mode to limp the car to the finish.

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

"We were just nursing the car through, but the water splash at the end, there's no way to get a rally car through there," said Evans, who dropped 42.9s.

Ogier also took on water navigating through the crossing but he didn't lose as much time as Evans. Although, he did concede 6.2s to Lappi, who faced the worst of the rain, as he reduced the gap between the pair to 4.3s.

"For sure, the last six kilometres were horrible," said Lappi. "The ruts were full of water so you couldn't drive, it was just aquaplaning all the time."

Neuville chalked up his fourth stage win of the day and his fifth fastest time of the rally to close within 7.3s of the lead. It wasn't a completely perfect stage for Hyundai though as Dani Sordo briefly stopped in the stage with a fuel pressure issue.

Moments after the incident, FIA stewards slapped Sordo with a €1000 fine for not having his HANS device positioned correctly after his crash in Friday's stage four.

But the complexion of the rally changed in the day's penultimate stage when rally leader Ogier crashed out of the event.

Battling incredibly difficult wet conditions, Ogier veered off the road with his GR Yaris left perched on a hillside and unable to continue.

Sébastien Ogier, Vincent Landais, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Sébastien Ogier, Vincent Landais, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Lappi backed off after he came across the stricken Ogier before going on to complete the stage some 32.6s behind stage winner Sordo.

This combined with a committed drive from Neuville, who was ahead of Ogier on the road and unaware of the drama that unfolded behind. The Belgian emerged at the stage end with a 23.8s rally lead, having leapfrogged his team-mate in the test.

Neuville then stamped his authority on the rally by winning the day's final stage by a whopping 10.8s from Sordo.

"I am relieved to be at the finish. It was a tough day out there but the feeling was getting better and better with the car," said Neuville.

M-Sport's Adrien Fourmaux led the WRC2 class ahead of Sunday's final four stages.

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