Italy WRC: Ogier leads Neuville, Mikkelsen out
M-Sport’s Sebastien Ogier mastered muddy conditions to vault from fifth to first place on Rally Italy, eclipsing his main WRC rival Thierry Neuville in second.
Reigning world champion Ogier made light work of his opponents through stage six, their first test following midday service.
Amid slippery conditions with standing water throughout, Ogier went 12.2 seconds faster than his next quickest opponent Esapekka Lappi, immediately moving into first place after restarting fifth.
Andreas Mikkelsen had led after midday service but signs of trouble began immediately after in stage six, an over-revving engine on gear changes a sign something was amiss.
Dropping to second place initially, he then retired altogether in the following test, his Hyundai unable to go further after stalling at a hairpin.
This moved Neuville back into second, the Belgian having been initially demoted to third by Ogier, and though he recouped 0.4s to his title rival in stage eight, he could not make a noticeable impact on Ogier’s newly established lead.
Neuville’s day almost ended in disaster, as he ran wide in stage nine and ripped the rear wing from his Hyundai. He overshot a junction shortly thereafter, dropping close to 10 seconds and ending Friday 18.9s behind Ogier.
Toyota had struggled to keep pace with Ogier and Neuville since Friday morning, though Tanak had kept in contact with the leading pair despite turn-in issues in third place.
However, his push to keep up came to an end in stage nine, Friday’s final test, the Estonian landing nose-heavy over a flat-out jump and causing terminal damage to his Toyota.
Tanak’s teammate Jari-Matti Latvala inherited third place, after being warned by Tanak himself to exercise caution over the same jump which had caused his own retirement. Despite heeding that warning, he still went quickest through stage nine.
Esapekka Lappi inherited fourth after a chaotic final Friday test, which claimed not only Tanak but also Teemu Suninen. M-Sport’s young talent went off-line and clipped a solid object, which sent him off a steep bank and into bushes from which he could not escape.
What had been a close battle over seventh became a battle for fifth position, as Citroen part-timer Mads Ostberg arrested rapid time loss to Hayden Paddon behind to end Friday 3.2s ahead.
Craig Breen holds seventh despite a frustrating day aboard his Citroen C3. He stalled thrice due to a handbrake issue in stage six, then overshot a chicane and had to reverse out one stage later.
Such was today’s rate of attrition, WRC2 support category drivers populated eighth through tenth places.
Stephane Lefebvre leads WRC2 aboard his works-backed Citroen C3 R5, taking advantage of steering issues for previous leader Ole Christian Veiby. Veiby's Skoda teammate Jan Kopecky is ninth overall and second in class.
Elfyn Evans continued plugging away after losing 13 minutes this morning with a broken steering arm, but is well outside the top ten positions.
Italy WRC: Mikkelsen leads Hyundai 1-2 on Friday morning
Italy WRC: Neuville eats into Ogier's lead