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Stage report
WRC Rally Italy

WRC Sardinia: Ogier stuns to lead Lappi after gruelling Friday morning

Eight-time world rally champion Sebastien Ogier produced a stunning drive to lead after Friday morning's brutal stages of Rally Sardinia from Hyundai's Esapekka Lappi.

The Toyota driver, returning to the World Rally Championship after sitting out last month’s visit to Portugal, won two of three gruelling gravel stages to head to midday service with a 16.3s lead.

M-Sport’s Pierre-Louis Loubet drove around an engine issue to sit third (+22.0s), with Toyota’s Elfyn Evans, fourth (+25.9s) and team-mate Takamoto Katsuta, fifth (+30.1s). Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, Ott Tanak (M-Sport-Ford) and world champion Kalle Rovanpera rounded out the top eight.

After the relatively tame but technical Thursday night super special, Friday’s schedule began with a brand new stage, which crews predicted would be the toughest of the rally.

Held under bright skies, the Tantariles (10.71km) test lived up to the predictions, offering up a narrow and bumpy road littered with rocks, reminiscent of the stages used at the notoriously difficult Safari Rally Kenya.

Ogier delivered a head-turning effort through the many hazards to set the fastest time to shoot from sitting sixth overnight to the rally lead.

Hyundai’s Lappi emerged second fastest after coming through stage 1.7s slower than Ogier. The Finn did reach the finish with damage to the bodywork on the front right, but moved to second overall.

M-Sport’s Loubet impressed to clock the third fastest time, 4.7s shy, despite losing full engine power for two kilometres after going through a water splash. The Frenchman slotted into third overall.

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Katsuta was fourth ahead of Neuville, Rovanpera, who opened the road, Sordo, Tanak and Evans.

The challenging road conditions continued into stage three (Terranova, 8.41km) which was won by Katsuta, who pipped Hyundai’s Sordo by 1.1s. Neuville was third fastest ahead of the fast-starting Loubet.

The last section of the stage provided yet more 'Safari-like' conditions courtesy of a rutted muddy section punctuated with puddles from the heavy rain earlier this week.

But it was Lappi who inherited the rally lead after posting the fifth fastest time, which was 0.8s faster than Ogier, prompting a switch of positions.

The road-cleaning effects were felt by the early runners in the mammoth 49.9km Monte Lerno test (stage four), which was held mostly in dry conditions.

It failed to halt Ogier, starting third on the road, as the Frenchman was in a league of his own to set a time 12.7s faster than the next best team-mate Evans.

World champion Rovanpera faced the trickiest of the conditions, losing 40.2s, although some of the time loss was attributed to a wild moment when he had to take evasive action after coming across three cows on the road.

Pierre-Louis Loubet, Nicolas Gilsoul, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Pierre-Louis Loubet, Nicolas Gilsoul, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Tanak was next onto the stage after the Finn and he too shipped 34.9s after likening his Puma to “like driving a tow truck”.

With the Hyundai drivers struggling for grip after electing to use hard tyres on the front, Ogier leapfrogged Lappi back into the rally lead.

"I like the long challenge, I've said it before. It's always a chance to make a difference - but I didn't know it would be that big," said Ogier.

After revealing he had "no grip", Lappi managed to limit time loss to 16.7s, but his run did include a moment where he ran wide.

Loubet managed to haul himself into third overall despite still battling engine power issues when driving through the many water splashes.

But it proved to be a tough stage for Hyundai as Neuville and Sordo both encountered the same grip issues suffered by Lappi.

Neuville dropped 25.9s while Sordo, who started the stage in sixth overall, slid down the order after losing more than three minutes. The Spaniard ran off the road and damaged the front of his Hyundai after sliding down a steep hillside after the final split point.

Katsuta was also fortunate to reach the stage end after he ran straight on at left-hander resulting in his Toyota being briefly wedged between two large rocks. Incredibly, he was able to reverse his GR Yaris out of the gap and continue, but dropped from third to fifth overall.

The crews will repeat the three stages later this afternoon.

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