Sardinia’s punishing gravel stages play host to round 5 of the 2021 World Rally Championship, the Italian round of the WRC has become synonymous with high drama and close battles. 2020 winner Dani Sordo will be looking to score Hyundai’s first win in what has been a difficult year for the Korean manufacturer, who have struggled in the face of an all conquering Toyota Gazoo Racing squad so far 2021.
Thursday saw Hyundai pace the shakedown, going 1st & 2nd with Thierry Neuville setting the pace, giving the team momentum heading into the first day of the event on Friday.
Friday morning would see one of the Hyundai’s set a torrid pace, but it wasn’t Neuville; instead it was 2019 WRC champion Ott Tanak who left the rest of the chasing field choking in his dust. Tanak, eager to overturn what has been a difficult 2021 season and after disappointment 2 weeks ago in Portugal, where a mechanical failure took Tanak out of the lead. Tanak would close out Friday with a healthy lead after setting a string of fastest times in the morning and early afternoon, with only Dani Sordo managing to outpace Tanak in the afternoon’s stages. Tanak meanwhile would shed a few seconds after one of his tyres began to delaminate in the final stage, losing him a small amount of corner & braking performance on the Italian stages.
Dani Sordo was in a no man’s land in 2nd, unable to match Tanak’s pace until the afternoon loop, by which point the Spaniard was someway behind the Estonian but also held a comfortable advantage over Sebastien Ogier in 3rd. Ogier had run consistently throughout Friday, briefly running in 2nd but dropping back, the Toyota lacking the pace of the Hyundai i20’s. Elfyn Evans trailed Ogier in 4th but endured a difficult morning as the Welshman was off the pace, a strong run in the afternoon allowed Evans to catch back up, aided by Thierry Neuville picking up 2 punctures and dropping down the order & Kalle Rovanperra retiring at the end of the morning’s stages; broken front right suspension ended the young Finn’s rally and was another dismal event for Toyota’s rising star.
Thierry Neuville rounded out the top 5 with Takamoto Katsuta running in 6th, a steady run for the Japanese driver was interrupted after an engine issue in the morning caused the engine to stall 3 times, costing Katsuta valuable time.
Saturday was a punishing day, the running order of the rally changing dramatically. Leader Ott Tanak continued to push, extending an already large lead over teammate Dani Sordo, but Tanak’s furious pace would be his undoing; Tanak collided with a rock and destroying the left rear suspension on his Hyundai, sampling heartbreak for a second time, retiring once again from a commanding lead. Dani Sordo was left to uphold honours for Hyundai and picked up where Tanak left off, running a strong pace with a healthy advantage over Sebastien Ogier. In Hyundai’s case though, lightning struck twice; Sordo ran wide, clipped a small culvert, rolling the car and liberating the right rear wheel from his Hyundai i20 putting Sordo out of the event.
Sebastien Ogier closed out the day as the leader, there were no heroics or drama’s for the Frenchman, just a clean, consistent and considered run through Saturday with a strong pace. Elfyn Evans was able to close in a little on Ogier by the end of the day, finding his feet in the Toyota after set-up changes gave the Welshman the extra pace he needed to close in on Ogier. Thierry Neuville lay in 3rd almost 23 seconds behind Evans, Neuville spent most of Saturday fettling his Hyundai i20 but none of the changes gave him the pace he needed to reign in the Toyota’s ahead of him. Takamoto Katsuta was the last of the WRC runners in 4th, someway back from Neuville, the Japanese driver only losing time on Saturday after colliding with a rock which almost threw Katsuta’s Yaris into the very pretty Sardinian scenery and also to remove a radiator blanking plate which had been left in situ by mistake. Gus Greensmith retired his Fiesta WRC for the second time with mechanical issues, the Sardinian stages certainly living up to their punishing reputation.
After a startling two days of attrition which had seen Hyundai & Ford’s efforts decimated, Sunday was relatively drama free by comparison. Sebastien Ogier had a steady run through Sunday to clinch a victory which, in all honesty was not expected due to the Frenchman lacking the pace of Tanak & Sordo’s Hyundai’s. There was a scare for Ogier in the final stage as his Toyota Yaris briefly stalled after going through a water splash, the same issue befell Elfyn Evans who just like Ogier was able to get going after stalling post watersplash. Evans would make it a Toyota 1-2 while Thierry Neuville rounded out the top 3. Takamoto Katsuta was the last of the WRC runners in 4th, equalling his career best finish from the previous event in Portugal. WRC2 class winner Jari Huttunen finished in 5th overall, a sign of just how attritional the event had been for the WRC runners.
The next round of the championship will no doubt be the most gruelling and challenging event on the 2021 calendar, with WRC returning to Kenya for the Safari Rally, starting June 24th and finishing June 27th; until next time, stay safe.
WRC Rally Italia Sardinia results:
- Sebastien Ogier
- Elfyn Evans
- Thierry Neuville
- Takamoto Katsuta
- Jari Huttunen (WRC2)
WRC Drivers championship standings:
- Sebastien Ogier – 106 points
- Elfyn Evans – 95 points
- Thierry Neuville – 77 points
- Ott Tanak – 49 points
- Takamoto Katsuta – 48 points
- Kalle Rovanperra – 44 points
- Dani Sordo – 30 points
- Craig Breen – 24 points
WRC manufacturers championship
- Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT – 231 points
- Hyundai Shell Mobis world rally team – 182 points
- M-Sport Ford world rally team – 82 points
- Hyundai 2C Competition – 28 points