Hyundai’s Ott Tanak wins FIA WRC Rally Italia Sardegna with teammate Dani Sordo in third behind M-Sport’s Craig Breen.
Ott Tanak opened up a slender lead after Friday’s morning loop at Rally Italia Sardegna as Elfyn Evans retired with technical troubles. The Estonian seized the top spot on the penultimate stage of the loop and brought his Hyundai i20 N back to midday service in Alghero with just 3.7sec in hand over Esapekka Lappi after a hot and dusty morning on the Mediterranean stages.
Lappi, making his GR Yaris Rally1 gravel debut, kept the pressure on from start to finish and even led briefly after the third stage. However, a front left puncture on the second pass of Monti di Alà e Buddusò prevented him from reclaiming the lead. Evans initially drew first blood with the fastest time on SS2, but a compression on the following test resulted in radiator damage and he was forced to retire his Toyota GR Yaris shortly after the stage.
It marked the Welshman’s third retirement of the year and his championship hopes are now further in doubt. Competitors faced two loops of the Terranova and Monti di Ala e Budduso tests. Both had a hard base, which was exposed for the repeat pass as cars swept away the sandy surface.
Normally, drivers would opt for set-up changes and harder tyres to adapt to the different conditions for the second loop, but with the stages driven twice before service, that opportunity was not there. That didn’t worry Tanak, whose morning went without trouble. Pierre-Louis Loubet completed the leading trio just 5.2sec behind Lappi.
The Frenchman enjoyed a consistent morning despite overshooting a hairpin and headed his M-Sport Ford team-mate Craig Breen – who also missed a junction – by 1.2sec. Two-time Italy winner Dani Sordo struggled to find a comfortable set-up on the first pass, but stepped up the pace after making some tweaks to his i20 in the regroup. He ended 4.5sec slower than Breen in fifth after winning the final test of the morning.
Puma hotshot Adrien Fourmaux was 26.1sec adrift of the leaders after nursing a front left puncture on SS5. He had Toyota hotshot Takamoto Katsuta behind, followed by road-opener Kalle Rovanperä, whose Yaris lost a portion of its rear wing after a moment on SS4.
Thierry Neuville and Gus Greensmith rounded off the leaderboard, both over two minutes in arrears after a frustrating start. Neuville’s was forced to nurse a transmission fault on his Hyundai late in the loop, while Greensmith’s time was lost earlier in the day when his Puma struggled to restart following an overshoot.
Ott Tanak is on course for a much-needed victory at Rally Italia Sardegna after leaving his rivals for dust on Saturday’s penultimate leg. The Estonian driver will start Sunday’s final leg with a hefty 46.0sec advantage over M-Sport Ford’s Craig Breen after pulling clear on what was a disastrous day for Friday leader Esapekka Lappi.
The stage was set for a thrilling battle after Lappi led Tanak by 0.7sec overnight, but he retired on Saturday’s opening Tempio Pausania speed blast when a heavy compression sent his Yaris flying into a rock which ripped off the rear left wheel. Lappi’s demise left Tanak all alone at the front and, despite insisting he wasn’t pushing, the stage times suggested otherwise as he won six of the day’s seven speed tests.
While his title hopes may be slim after a poor start to the season, victory here would mean a lot to Tanak. He hasn’t stood on the top step of the podium since Arctic Rally Finland powered by CapitalBox in 2021, which was 461 days ago. Breen was the only other driver to win a stage on what was a hot and dusty day. The Irishman started third before snatching the runners-up spot when team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet punctured on the opening test.
He was pressured by Hyundai’s Dani Sordo in the morning, but managed to build a comfortable buffer as Sordo struggled for pace later in the day. 20.8sec separated the pair at close of play. Loubet delivered a mature drive to bring his Puma home fourth. He trailed Sordo by 25.0sec, but had 51.4sec in hand over fifth-placed Kalle Rovanpera, who started the day eighth after opening the road on Friday.
Rovanpera broke into the top five late in the day when Adrien Fourmaux crashed his Ford on the final Monte Lerno Di Pattada blast and the stage was subsequently red-flagged. Takamoto Katsuta was almost four minutes down on the leaders. With no midday service, he was forced to drive carefully while nursing a weakened radiator which took a hit through the watersplash at Coiluna – Loelle.
Gus Greensmith was seventh, while the rest of the leaderboard comprised of support category cars. WRC2 leader Nikolay Gryazin headed Jan Solans and Chris Ingram, who completed the top ten. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville was eyeing a climb up the leaderboard after ending Friday ninth following transmission woes. However, the Belgian’s luck ran out on the third stage of the morning when a rollover put him out for the day. After restarting following his Friday retirement, Elfyn Evans came unstuck once again when rear suspension failure sidelined his Yaris in the afternoon.
Ott Tanak ended his long search for another FIA World Rally Championship victory with a convincing win at Rally Italia Sardegna on Sunday afternoon. The Hyundai Motorsport driver was on dominant form on the Mediterranean island’s punishing rock-strewn roads and brought his hybrid-powered i20 N Rally1 car home 1min 3.2sec clear of M-Sport Ford driver Craig Breen.
Tanak’s win at the championship’s fifth round was certainly long-awaited. The last time he stood on the top step of the podium was at Arctic Rally Finland powered by CapitalBox in 2021, which was 462 days ago. Since then, he has struggled to find rally-winning form, mainly due to mechanical troubles. The Estonian was on the pace from the get-go and traded the lead with GR Yaris driver Esapekka Lappi on Friday’s shortened opening leg.
A transmission issue on the final blast left him with only three-wheel drive and he trailed the Finn by 0.7sec overnight. The stage was set for a thrilling battle over Saturday’s marathon leg, which took place in the Monte Acuto region with no midday service. However, the fight was over just 10.4km into the opening Tempio Pausania test when Lappi’s car rebounded from a heavy compression and bounced into a rock which ripped off the rear left wheel and suspension components.
Lappi’s demise left Tanak clear at the top and he went on to win six of Saturday’s seven speed tests, carrying a hefty advantage into the final leg despite insisting that he wasn’t pushing. He was then able to ease through the final four stages and claim a 15th career win. Breen was delighted to grab his best-ever result for M-Sport Ford.
The Irishman ended Friday just inside the top-five following a spin and an overshoot, but moved into second soon afterwards when team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet punctured a front left tyre. He came under pressure from Dani Sordo before delivering a handful of top-three times on Saturday to bridge the gap to his Spanish rival.
Sordo, ever the safe pair of hands, eventually completed the podium 29.8sec behind. He struggled to find a comfortable set-up early in the rally, but gradual improvements unlocked more pace from his i20 N and a stall following a water splash on SS16 was his only real bump in the road.
Pierre-Louis Loubet brought his Puma 36.4sec further back to mark a career-best result of fourth overall. He took on a mature approach following the puncture, showing pace when needed but also comfortably managing the gap to Kalle Rovanpera, who ended 53.4sec behind. Rovanpera was the best-finishing Toyota with fifth on what was a disappointing event for the team.
He had the dubious task of opening the road on Friday and initially languished in eighth after struggling for traction on the loose and dusty surface, but an improved road position on Saturday helped him climb the order. The Finn was able to leapfrog Yaris colleague Takamoto Katsuta, who finished sixth, as well as Adrien Fourmaux, who crashed out on SS17, and he now leads the championship by a commanding 55 points.
Gus Greensmith was seventh after a frustrating weekend. The Briton overshot a right-hander on Friday and dropped around two minutes while fumbling to get his Puma restarted. After that, he focused on bringing the car home and testing different set-ups. The rest of the leaderboard was made up of support category cars. WRC2 winner Nikolay Gryazin headed Jan Solans and Jari Huttunen, who completed the top ten.
Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville managed to salvage five points with the Wolf Power Stage win after rolling his i20 N out of contention on Saturday. Elfyn Evans also had a rally to forget after retiring on both Friday and Saturday.
Here’s WRC Rally Italia Sardegna result: https://www.wrc.com/en/wrcplus/live-timing/
[Note: The above is as per press release with no edits made]