Thierry Neuville dominated proceedings in FIA WRC Rally Sardegna ahead of teammate Esapekka Lappi, with Kalle Rovanpera in third.


Sparks flew on Friday at Rally Italia Sardegna as Esapekka Lappi demoted Sébastien Ogier in a gripping conclusion to Friday’s opening leg, claiming the tiniest of overnight leads. After one of the most daunting days thus far in this year’s FIA World Rally Championship, where crews braved over 140km of rough gravel stages in changeable weather conditions, the duelling duo found themselves separated by a mere one-tenth of a second.

Ogier, contesting his fourth rally this year aboard a Toyota GR Yaris, started on the front foot and led by a seemingly comfortable 16.3sec at the day’s halfway point having blitzed his Finnish rival through the first pass of Monte Lerno, a whopping 49.90km in length.

But the Frenchman’s advantage began to erode as the same three speed tests were repeated after lunch and Lappi, charging hard in his Hyundai i20 N, delivered the perfect response in Monte Lerno 2 – ultimately claiming the lead in the day’s finale.

Despite grappling with an intermittently functioning handbrake, Thierry Neuville fought his way up the leaderboard to make it two Hyundais in the top three. The Belgian trailed Ogier by 18.5sec at close of play with championship leader Kalle Rovanperä another 27.5sec behind.

Rovanperä had entered the final stage down in seventh overall but the wet conditions played to the Toyota Gazoo Racing driver’s favour – and to his early starting position. He posted the benchmark time, climbing three positions in the process.

Just 1.3sec behind was Takamoto Katsuta, who suffered a fright in the morning loop when he hit a rock after running wide in a left-hand bend. The mishap cost around 20sec and kept his Toyota mechanics busy in service.

A front right puncture towards the end of Monte Lerno left Elfyn Evans 18.2sec behind his team-mate in sixth overall. He headed M-Sport Ford’s Ott Tänak, who overcame a failing water pump, by 4.2sec.

WRC2 runners Sami Pajari, Adrien Fourmaux and Emil Lindholm completed the top 10 while Dani Sordo languished in 12th overall. The Spaniard rolled his Hyundai in SS4, losing more than three minutes in the process. Pierre-Louis Loubet was Friday’s only casualty. Initially running third overall, the Frenchman incurred a three-minute time penalty when he couldn’t engage any gears prior to the start of SS5. Although the issue was swiftly resolved, Loubet faced further frustrations later in the day when he beached his Puma in a Monte Lerno ditch.


Thierry Neuville sits on the brink of his first triumph in 2023 having taken control of Rally Italia Sardegna on a thrilling Saturday which saw the downfall of eight-time world champion Sébastien Ogier.

Neuville had trailed Ogier and Esapekka Lappi in third place since the start of this sixth round of the season – but a heavy downpour in the penultimate Erula – Tula test caused utter chaos and turned the rally on its head.

Ogier, hunting down a record fifth Italian win in a Toyota GR Yaris, entered the stage clinging onto a slender overall lead. However, in a stunning twist of fate, the Frenchman’s fortunes took a dramatic downturn when he understeered off the road, veering down an embankment just 1.4km after the start.

Lappi reduced his attack upon seeing Ogier’s stricken car, inadvertently dropping over half a minute to i20 N team-mate Neuville, who was unaware of the drama unfolding behind him on the road. The Belgian climbed from third to first overall as a result of his charge and heads the Hyundai 1-2 by 36.4sec approaching Sunday’s four-stage finale.

Championship leader Kalle Rovanperä was elevated to third at his team-mate’s expense, although the Finn is unlikely to be able to trouble the frontrunning pair on outright pace. He trailed Lappi by 1min 14.3sec at close of play after being hampered by excessive tyre wear in the afternoon.

Perseverance paid off for Elfyn Evans, whose day was filled with setbacks. The Welshman’s Toyota sustained radiator damage in a water crossing on SS10 and he leaked almost three minutes limping back to service. History threatened to repeat itself later in the day when Evans’ car momentarily lost power while negotiating another water splash. The misfire cleared itself shortly afterwards and he reached the finish almost four minutes behind Rovanperä in fourth overall.

Ott Tänak and Takamoto Katsuta were not as lucky and both suffered water-induced retirements. A faulty electrical sensor was to blame for M-Sport Ford man Tänak’s demise while Katsuta bowed out with radiator damage. Their respective mishaps enabled Dani Sordo, recovering from a Friday morning roll, to climb to fifth overall. He headed WRC2 leader Adrien Fourmaux while Andreas Mikkelsen, Teemu Suninen, Emil Lindholm and Kajetan Kajetanowicz – all contesting WRC2 – completed the leaderboard.


Thierry Neuville vaulted from fifth to second in the FIA World Rally Championship standings on Sunday afternoon after clinching a long-awaited victory at Rally Italia Sardegna. Belgian star Neuville headed i20 N partner Esapekka Lappi by 33.0sec in a dream 1-2 finish for Hyundai at round six of 13, scoring his 18th career success alongside co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe.

The result served as a maiden 2023 triumph for both Neuville and his team, helping the Korean marque to move within 23 points of championship-leading manufacturer Toyota Gazoo Racing. The lead changed hands a whopping nine times during the fast and furious Mediterranean island fixture until Neuville seized the initiative when GR Yaris rival Sébastien Ogier went off the road in Saturday’s rain-hit penultimate test.

He surpassed Lappi, who celebrated his third-consecutive top-three finish, in the same stage and managed a comfortable advantage through Sunday’s four-stage finale. Rovanperä completed the podium in third overall, his best result out of five Rally Italia Sardegna attempts.

Although he trailed fellow Finn Lappi by 1min 22.3sec at the finish, the high rate of attrition saw him end a sizeable 3min 25.2sec clear of fourth-placed Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans. Evans struggled to get into a rhythm in his GR Yaris and dropped around three minutes on Saturday when the car’s radiator sustained damage in a water crossing.

Dani Sordo almost made it three Hyundais in the top five but retired after the day’s second stage due to exhaust failure. It brought an early end to what been a turbulent weekend for the Spaniard, having previously rolled his i20 N on Friday morning.

His demise paved the way for Andreas Mikkelsen to claim fifth overall as well as taking a surprise victory in WRC2. He had trailed Adrien Fourmaux by more than half a minute before the Wolf Power Stage but the Frenchman slid off the road 1.4km after the start.

Here’s WRC Rally Sardegna results:

[Note: The story is as per press release]