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PHOTO: Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20 receives attention in an immaculate team service bay at Rally Italia Sardegna (Hyundai pic)

THIERRY Neuville distanced Jari-Matti Latvala with a powerful Saturday afternoon charge to carry a healthy lead into Sunday’s final leg of Rally Italia Sardegna.

Latvala reduced Neuville’s Friday night lead to less than three seconds across the morning loop of stages morning as handling issues hindered the Hyundai i20 driver. But the Belgian won two of the afternoon’s three tests to rebuild his lead and end 16.1sec clear.

High temperatures, rocky gravel roads and heavy rain presented a tough challenge in a day which contained more than half the event’s distance – and Neuville was up to it.

“The car was amazing to drive in slippery conditions,” he said.

“We’ve had another good day and it was a pleasure to fight Jari-Matti. Tomorrow will be tough but we’ll prepare properly and continue fighting.”

An overnight gearbox change left Latvala more confident with his Volkswagen Polo R’s handling. After eating into Neuville’s lead he looked certain to move ahead but applauded his rival’s drive through the final marathon 44.26km Monte Lerno test.

“I can’t do better than that. I did a really good run and if Thierry is faster then respect to him. I was a bit too careful earlier this afternoon, but sometimes you have to play safe,” Latvala said.

Championship leader Sébastien Ogier was 58.9sec adrift of Latvala in third. As road-opener he endured the worst of the conditions, cleaning the dry gravel off the surface to leave better grip for those behind.

Less than four seconds covered Ogier, Mads Østberg and Andreas Mikkelsen after the morning as the Norwegian duo closed on the struggling Frenchman. However, both Scandinavians retired in the afternoon to leave Ogier over a minute clear of Dani Sordo.

Mikkelsen was first to go, exiting fifth with a broken steering arm on his Polo R after hitting a rock in the middle of the road. Then Østberg parked his Ford Fiesta RS near the finish of the final stage after clipping a rock and breaking the front-right suspension.

Dani Sordo overcame a sticking throttle to head Ott Tänak by 2min 31.4sec. The Estonian had tyre problems in the high temperatures, but showed his pace by winning the day’s second test.

Sunday’s final leg is the shortest, comprising four stages and 40.26km north of Alghero. The final 6.07km test from Sassari to Argentiera will be the live TV Power Stage with bonus points to the fastest three drivers.

Overall Classification after Day Two:

1. T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) 3:07:35.2
2. J. M. Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +16.1
3. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:15.0
4. D. Sordo / M. Marti (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +2:19.2
5. O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:50.6
6. H. Solberg / I. Minor (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +5:32.4
7. E. Camilli / B. Veillas (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +5:38.5
8. M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +11:14.0
9. K. Kruuda / M. Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta R5) +11:35.3
10. M Prokop / J. Tomanek (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +12:33.1

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.