Dani Sordo did just enough to claim his second Rally Italy win in two years as Hyundai team-mate Theirry Neuville blitzed the Power Stage to sneak into second place ahead of Sebastien Ogier.
Sordo watched his rally lead disappear from 27 seconds at the start of Sunday to under 10 seconds before the final stage. Runner-up Neuville finally ended up just 5.1 seconds behind the rally winner.
“It’s amazing,” said Sordo. “I’m not really happy with my performance today but in the end, we managed to bring the rally home.
“So, I am really, really happy.”
Neuville jumped ahead of championship-rival Ogier on the rally’s final stage in an incredible end to the pair’s ferocious battle.
Despite damaging a brake disc during the stage, the Belgian went 2.7 seconds quicker than Ogier on Sassari – Argentiera to complete a Hyundai 1-2 by a single second.
“I was pumping [the brake pedal] all the time,” said Neuville. “So I lost a little bit. We did the best we could.”
It was a dramatic end to an incredible weekend-long dual as they both hunted down Sordo and early rally-leader Teemu Suninen on Friday and Saturday.
Sordo benefitted from an advantageous road position on Friday taking five of his six stage wins on the opening day. As Stage 1 winner Suninen dropped off the pace, courtesy of a handbrake issue on Stage 8, Sordo’s lead increased to 36 seconds.
The Spaniard’s lead looked in threat after Sunday’s first stage when he lost over ten seconds to Ogier and Neuville. His advantage dropped to 16 seconds with two stages remaining but an improved performance on the second pass of Sunday’s stages was enough to seal his third World Rally win.
Meanwhile, World Rally Championship leader Elfyn Evans gained valuable points in fourth after struggling to match the pace of the podium finishers.
“For sure, in terms of speed there was a bit more we could have done,” said Evans. “I’m not sure the position would have been any different.
“I’m not so happy with my driving here, I missed quite a few ruts but otherwise it was okay.”
Evans was the final driver to move ahead of the helpless Suninen on Saturday. A spirited Suninen fought back on Saturday evening after his handbrake was repaired. However, Evans threw one final punch on Sunday’s first stage as he went 19 seconds faster than the Finn on Stage 13 to consolidate his position.
Evans’ championship lead has reduced by four points but he still holds a 14-point margin over his team-mate Ogier.
Ott Tanak finished Rally Italy in a lonely sixth position, 53.6 seconds behind Suninen. His rally was ruined early on Friday when he lost one and a half minutes with a suspension problem.
A Power Stage win will provide some consolation as he claimed some points back on his championship rivals. The reigning world champion holds fourth in this year’s standings, 28 points behind Evans with two rounds remaining.
“It has been disappointing,” said Tanak at the end of the rally. “But that is how it is and there is nothing we could have changed.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet cruised through Sunday’s stages to claim his first WRC finish of the season. His seventh-place finish will be a welcome change following his retirements in Turkey and Estonia.
Gus Greensmith’s Ford Fiesta was the final World Rally Car home. He was running well down the order on Sunday after a broken alternator belt stopped him on a stretch of road section between stages on Saturday.
Greensmith and co-driver Elliott Edmondson were in sixth before their mechanical woes. Their Power Stage result was also hit when the Fiesta cut out, forcing the pair to stop for several seconds mid-stage.
Takamoto Katsuta suffered a bruising accident on Rally Italy when he rolled his Toyota Yaris WRC on a narrow section of Sunday morning’s Stage 14. It has been a tough weekend for the Japenese driver after an off-road excursion coupled with a brake issue on Saturday dropped him down to the bottom half of the leaderboard.
Despite showing promising pace this year, Katsuta has now ended his past two rallies in a similar fashion.
Esapekka Lappi and Kalle Rovanpera were the other two WRC drivers to retire from the action on Rally Italy. Lappi’s rally came to an end on the second stage with an engine failure while Rovanpera crashed his Yaris into a couple of stage-side trees on Saturday morning.
Final Rally Italy standings
1 D. Sordo / C. del Barrio (Hyundai) 2:41:37.5s
2 T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai) +5.1s
3 S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Toyota)+6.1
4 E. Evans / S. Martin (Toyota) +1:02.3
5 T. Suninen / J. Lehtinen (M-Sport Ford) +1:33.9
6 O. Tanak / M. Jarveoja (Hyundai) +2:27.5
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Photos courtesy of Hyundai Motorsport