Sordo’s cameo in the third Hyundai entry gave a huge fillip to his employers’ chances in the manufacturers’ title race, while the battle for the drivers’ title is shaping up to be a four-way fight towards the very final stage of the year.
Cooler conditions greeted the runners on Sunday morning, an overcast sky dropping ambient temperatures by 10C from the first two days. A loop of just two stages awaited, 14.06 km Cala Flumini and 6.89 km Sassari, which was to be run twice through the day.
Toyota’s six-time world champion Sebastien Ogier had done enough on Saturday’s final stages to split the Hyundais of leader Sordo and Neuville. Ogier pipped Neuville to win the first stage of the day by two tenths of a second, while Sordo struggled and dropped 12.1s.
Championship leader Elfyn Evans was 4.8s further back but he did enough to safeguard his fourth place from attack by M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen.
Neuville lit the blue touch paper on the second stage, reclaiming 1.6s from Ogier before the service halt. When the action restarted, the Frenchman then took back those lost 1.6s while Sordo struggled again, allowing his overall lead – which had been as high as 38s – to erode to just 9.2s.
“It’s never safe and I don’t know, I don’t understand the times,” said Sordo as they headed to the final stage of the day. “They are really, really fast in this stage. I am really surprised.”
The second run through the beach-side stage at Sassari would seal the result, and with it would come the bonus Power Stage points for the top five times. This was the moment in which defending champion Ott Tanak played his joker to perfection.
After his Hyundai lost two minutes due to unspecified technical difficulties on the first day, Tanak could finish no higher than sixth overall.
Tanak set an unbeatable Power Stage time to claim five extra points that keep him in the title race with two events remaining. Neuville went faster on the split times but then began bouncing off the scenery in his rush to get to the finish.
“I got a broken disc or something in the last 1.5 km so I was pumping [the brakes] all the time so I lost a little bit but we did the best we could,” the Belgian said.
Ogier was 3.4s slower than Tanak and handed second place overall back to Neuville.
“I can hardly do more, honestly, I’m on the limit, I push very hard but on this stage we knew that Hyundai is very, very strong on that one but we tried, so no regrets,” said Ogier. “For sure it was intense the whole weekend. We gave everything.”
Sordo was the last man into the stage, his i20 WRC carrying the name of his compatriot Laura Salvo, the 21-year-old Spanish co-driver killed on Rally Vidreiro Centro Portugal on Saturday. He didn’t challenge the fastest times, but did enough to claim his second consecutive victory in Sardinia by 5.1s.
“It’s amazing,” said Sordo. “I’m not really happy with my performance today, but at the end we managed to bring the rally home so I’m really, really happy.”
In WRC2, Sweden’s Pontus Tidemand turned the championship tide in his favour with another cautious outing in his Skoda Fabia.
In the WRC point standings, Elfyn Evans remains 14 points clear of Ogier as the series moves to asphalt rallies for the remainder of the schedule. Neuville has climbed up to third, 10 points further back, with Tanak hanging on right behind him.