The hard, rocky roads on the island of Sardinia were home to Rally Italia, the fifth round of the 2021 World Rally Championship last weekend and as usual proved to be an extremely tough event for all competitors.
It was a foregone conclusion it would prove difficult for Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT, as the team’s championship leading crews, Sebastien Ogier with co-driver Julien Ingrassia and team mates Elfyn Evans with co-driver Scott Martin, would be at the head of the 55 strong field on Friday and consequently “sweeping” the stages for the remainder of the field.
From the outset it was obvious Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT were determined to bring home yet another victory in Sardinia, having won four in recent years, Dani Sordo looking for his third successive win on this event. But it was the Hyundai i20 of Ott Tänak with co driver Martin Järveoja who set the pace, winning five of the day’s eight special stages, Sordo with co-driver Borja Rozada took the remaining three, a clean sweep for the Korean manufacturer. Thierry Neuville and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe were struggling to find balance in their cars handling and finished fifth overall on the day.
Ogier and Evans battled for grip but kept the time gap to the leaders within reach for day 2. Third member of the Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT, Kalle Rovanpera flew the flag by staying in the top three until a right front suspension failure forced him into retirement on stage 4.
It was to prove a difficult day for the M-Sport Ford WRT, as Teemu Suninen and co-driver Mikko Markkula ended their rally hopes with a roll 20.5 km into stage 1. Despite getting the Fiesta back onto its wheels the car refused to start and the Finn retired.
It was a double whammy for the team when Gus Greensmith and new co-driver Stuart Loudon’s Fiesta transmission cried enough on stage eight, the final stage of the day. Just 100 metres into the stage the issues began and a subsequent loss of oil put an end to their rally.
Day 2 and with the running order reversed it was an opportunity for Ogier to close the 36.2 second gap to overnight leader Tänak, but the Estonian started his day with another stage win. Evans and Ogier bringing the Yaris’s home in second and third spot, with Sordo fourth having lost almost 13 seconds after an engine cut following a water splash.
But the tide was starting to turn as Ogier won stage 10 and Evans took 11. Sordo is lacking pace and drops back to fifth. Stage 12 was to change the face of the rally, Ogier hit a large rock losing a little time but was able to continue unlike rally leader Tänak who also hit a rock resulting in considerable damage to the left rear of the i20 forcing him to retire.
More bad news for Hyundai when 3.3 km into stage 15, Sordo rolled the car tearing the right rear wheel off and into retirement on the penultimate stage of day2.
Now first and second the Toyota Gazoo Racing Yaris’ of Ogier and Evans swop stage wins, the Frenchman winning five and Welshman Evans two. Neuville, now the sole surviving Hyundai holds onto third spot.
Four stages remain on the final day and Sordo and Tänak rejoin to collect a few very valuable points on the power stage. Ogier almost seems to be in cruise mode as he has a substantial lead and just needs to complete the rally which he does, leading a Toyota 1-2 finish with Evans also winning two of the last four stages. Neuville takes the third spot on the podium for Hyundai.
All eyes now turn to the next event the Safari Rally Kenya based in Naivasha on 24 – 27 June.
- S. Ogier/J.Ingrassia Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
- E.Evans/S.Martin Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
- T Neuville / M Wydaeghe Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20
- T.Katsuta/D.Barritt Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
FIA World Rally Championship Drivers (after round 5 of 12)
- S.Ogier 106
- E.Evans 95
- T.Neuville 77
- O.Tanak 49
- T.Katsuta 48
- K.Rovanpera 44
FIA World Rally Championship Manufacturers (after round 5 of 12)
- Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 231
- Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT 182
- M-Sport Ford WRT 82