Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier will head the pack going into the final day of Rally Italia Sardegna after his team-mate and chief championship rival Jari-Matti Latvala made a mistake in SS13.
Ogier went into the afternoon loop 17.7 seconds back, having gained 11 seconds in the final test this morning when Latvala had an engine scare - it later turned out there was nothing wrong other than a faulty sensor.
Ogier kept up the pressure though, and in SS12 took another 5.4 seconds out of Latvala after the Finn stalled in the stage. Ogier then moved ahead in the final test of the day, when Jari-Matti hit a rock and damaged a wheel. He had to stop and change it and that cost him over two minutes, dropping him from first to third.
Ogier will now take a 1 minute 40.2 second cushion into the final leg and looks well placed to take his fourth win of the season.
“What a rally day! I think Jari-Matti and I have put on a good show for the fans. We both drove at the limit. Jari put in a fantastic time on the first stage [today], after that I was able to make up some time,” Ogier said.
“At the end, when Julien [Ingrassia – my co-driver] and I were informed that he had lost time we stopped taking as many risks. We're now in a great position to win the rally again. But there are four difficult stages scheduled for tomorrow, without service – that's why we will be concentrating fully on the final day.”
Latvala meanwhile held his hands up and admitted it was his own error that cost him the lead: “It was my mistake,” he confirmed after SS13. “I lost the rear in some ruts, and it came out and we hit a rock. We broke the wheel and I had to change it.”
“It would have been have been tough anyway though [to keep the lead] as we had the same brake problem as before [on Friday], so fighting with Seb would have been impossible,” he continued.
Speaking back in service he added: “We need to look ahead now: The rally isn't over yet and we are still in with a chance of taking back second place. Of course I am also disappointed as we are no longer in with a chance of winning.
“The day didn't go to plan. On the second stage we lost time through a false alarm due to a defect sensor. When we went to stop, the warning that the water was at a critically high temperature disappeared and we were able to keep going. In the afternoon I then skidded sideways at the start of the 60-kilometre special stage, hit a stone and damaged one of my rear wheels,” he remarked.
Latvala's misfortune late on promoted Mads Ostberg up to second and the Norwegian now has a 21.3 second cushion: "We were fairly cautious on the stages. There was no question of taking any risks. Our second position shows that it was the right strategy. There's a fairly big gap to third and we still have some room for improvement in terms of performance. We just have to keep it up until the end of the rally!” said the Citroen driver.
Further back, Volkswagen Motorsport II driver Andreas Mikkelsen is on course for fourth, despite hitting a rock in SS12 and damaging a damper. He had to take it easy through the rest of that test and through the long Monte Lerno stage and now lies 36.3 seconds off Latvala.
“Our plan didn't quite work out today,” Mikkelsen admitted. “We wanted to set our own pace, drive our own rally. If that had been fast enough to beat Mads Ostberg, great. If not, never mind. What we really wanted was to drive well and finish in the top four.
“[But] we hit a large stone on Special Stage 12 and damaged one of the front dampers. As a result we were no longer able to attack on the final 60-kilometre stage and instead tried to contain the damage as much as we could. Which we managed. It's down to team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala's bad luck that we are still within reach of the podium. We're taking things as they come. But the same will be true tomorrow: We aren't going to risk everything to attack.”
M-Sport's Elfyn Evans rounds out the top-five and he had a pretty uneventful day, going fifth in SS10, sixth in SS11 and SS12 and fourth in SS13.
“It's been an OK day,” said the M-Sport driver. “We had a reasonable run through the first stage of the [afternoon] loop [SS12], but there was quite a bit of tyre wear so we were a little bit concerned as to how that would play out for the long one [SS13].
“We took it really carefully and, to be honest, the splits were quite positive. As we were driving with really low risk, we decided to keep it at that. It was a tough stage and it was important that we made it through.
"We've learnt a lot this weekend. I was happy with the pace yesterday and although the times haven't been quite as impressive today, they weren't so bad. I don't think we've done a bad job. We maintained our position and avoided mistakes so in that respect it was good.”
Behind, Martin Prokop holds sixth in his Jipocar Czech National Team-run Fiesta RS WRC, despite ending the day in pain due to back problems.
Henning Solberg is next up with Robert Kubica now eighth under Rally 2, the Pole having retired in SS12 when he hit a rock and knocked the front-right wheel off. He will re-join on Sunday.
Of the rest, Khalid Al-Qassimi is ninth in the 'third' Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT entry, one spot ahead of Lorenzo Bertelli, the WRC2 class leader. Bertelli moved into the class lead in the final test when Nasser Al-Attiyah crashed out. Al-Attiyah had been comfortably out front following Yazeed Al-Rajhi's exit in the morning – ironically also in Monte Lerno and at the same corner (but of course on the first run).
In terms of retirements, in addition to Kubica, Hyundai's Hayden Paddon also had to pull out when his engine began misfiring after going through the water splash in SS13. It has yet to be confirmed if he will re-start or not. He had been running eighth but now drops down to P11, 51.3 seconds off Bertelli.
Rally Italia Sardegna now concludes on Sunday, with competitors facing just 46.84 competitive kilometres and three relatively short stages - one of which will be run twice, as SS14 and SS17, the latter the Power Stage. There is, however, no service between the four tests.
SS14, the 8.98 kilometre Cala Flumini 1 test is due to start at 07.39 hours local time [06.39 hours UK time].
Rally Italia Sardegna: Overall standings after Stage 13 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 3hours 30m 15.8s M
2. Mads Ostberg Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +01m 40.2s M
3. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +02m 01.5s M
4. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +02m 37.8s M
5. Elfyn Evans M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04m 24.3s M
6. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +05m 26.1s M
7. Henning Solberg Adapta Motorsport Ford Fiesta RS WRC +06m 09.6s
8. Robert Kubica RK M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +12m 03.7s M
9. Khalid Al Qassimi Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +15m 05.2s
10. Lorenzo Bertelli Ford Fiesta RRC +16m 08.1s WRC2
11. Hayden Paddon Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +16m 59.4s M#
12. Bernardo Sousa Ford Fiesta RRC +17m 32.4s WRC2
13. Sebastien Chardonnet Citroen DS3 R5 +17m 32.4s WRC2
14. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari Ford Fiesta RRC +19m 12.5s WRC2
15. Yuriy Protasov Ford Fiesta RRC +20m 56.5s WRC2
16. Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +26m 48.0s M
17. Karl Kruuda Peugeot 208 T16 +27m 25.2s WRC2
18. Kris Meeke Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +29m 36.9s M
# assumes will re-start on Sunday under Rally 2
WRC2 standings after Stage 13 (Top 3):
1. Lorenzo Bertelli Ford Fiesta RRC 3hr 46m 23.9s WRC2
2. Bernardo Sousa Ford Fiesta RRC +01m 24.3s WRC2
3. Sebastien Chardonnet Citroen DS3 R5 +01m 28.9s WRC2
SS3/SS4. Mikko Hirvonen M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Engine M
SS5. Juho Hanninen Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Rolled M
SS5. Kris Meeke Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC Electrical M*
SS11. Yazeed Al-Rajhi Ford Fiesta RRC Went off the road WRC2
SS12. Robert Kubica RK M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Took the front-right wheel off M
SS13. Hayden Paddon Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC Engine M
SS13. Nasser Al-Attiyah Qatar Rally Team Ford Fiesta RRC Went off the road WRC2
M denotes Manufacturer entry
*denotes re-started on Saturday under Rally 2
all times unofficial