HYUNDAI’S Dani Sordo claimed his second career victory in the FIA World Rally Championship after long-time leader Ott Tänak suffered car failure just minutes from the finish of Rally Italia Sardegna on Sunday.
PHOTO: Dani Sordo (R) and co-driver Carlo de Barrio celebrate their unexpected victory on Rally Italia Sardegna (Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool)
The extraordinary unpredictability of the WRC was evident again as the Spaniard celebrated his second success in 164 world rally starts and his first since 2013, while a steering problem in the rough final stage denied Tänak a third consecutive win.
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Tänak led the hot and dusty gravel rally since Saturday morning in his Toyota Yaris. He began the rally-closing Wolf Power Stage with a half-minute advantage over Sordo’s Hyundai i20, only for disaster to strike shortly after the start.
Damaged steering caused him to spin and he crawled to the finish, losing two minutes and plunging to fifth in the standings. However, the result was enough to boost him into the series lead with a four-point advantage over Sébastien Ogier.
Sordo was stunned by the late drama.
“It’s unbelievable. I don’t have words to describe this, I’m really shocked. It’s amazing to win but I’m sorry for Ott, he was faster than me in some places over the weekend,” he said.
A visibly upset Tänak reported his steering locked early in the stage.
“We were stationary for some time, fighting to get the steering working. Somehow we managed to get going again, but there was a lot of time lost and so was the victory,” he said.
“I’m frustrated, but I also feel very sad for the team. Everybody put so much effort in for this event and in the end to lose it in this way is really a shame.”
Tänak’s despair in his 100th world rally start brought delight for Teemu Suninen. The Finn claimed a career-best second place in his first rally alongside new co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen. Driving a Ford Fiesta, he finished 13.7sec behind Sordo.
Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen won all four Sunday tests to secure the final podium place in another Hyundai, a further 18.9sec behind.
He demoted Elfyn Evans by 0.9sec in the final special stage, a task made harder as the Welshman earlier was credited with 7.0sec after being delayed in the dust of Kris Meeke. Meeke restarted in front of Evans after stopping to change a wheel.
Evans was almost a minute clear of Tänak, with Thierry Neuville completing the top six. It was a disappointing weekend for the Belgian, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Sunday, but Tänak’s problems kept him firmly in the three-way title fight, seven points adrift of the lead.
Six-time champion Ogier had a trouble-filled rally. Twice he swiped roadside rocks and broke his Citroën’s suspension, but he returned to take four bonus points from second place in the Wolf Power Stage.
The championship departs Sardinia for a long summer break. The second portion of the season will start at the iconic Neste Rally Finland in Jyväskylä on 1-4 August and end at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the Coffs Coast on 14-17 November.
RESULTS, WRC Rally Italia Sardegna (Rd 8 of 14):
1 Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 3h32m27.2s
2 Teemu Suninen/Jarmo Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +13.7s
3 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger-Amland (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +32.6s
4 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +33.5s
5 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1m30.1s
6 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2m16.7s
7 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +2m59.6s
8 Kris Meeke/Seb Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4m40.1s
9 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Skoda Fabia R5) +8m24.6s
10 Jan Kopecky/Pavel Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5) +8m49.2s
Drivers’ Championship Standings (after Rd 8):
1 O. Tanak 150
2 S. Ogier 146
3 T. Neuville 143
4 E. Evans 78
5 T. Suninen 62
6 K. Meeke 60
7 A. Mikkelsen 56
8 D. Sordo 52
9 E. Lappi 40
10 J-M Latvala 40
Manufacturers’ Championship Standings (after Rd 8):
1 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 242
2 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 198
3 Citroën Total World Rally Team 170
4 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 152