Dani Sordo claimed his second career victory at Rally Italia Sardegna on Sunday afternoon after late agony for long-time leader Ott Tänak.
The Spaniard celebrated his second success in 164 world rally starts when a steering problem in the final rough road speed test denied Tänak a third consecutive FIA World Rally Championship victory.
Tänak led the hot and dusty 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. The only consolation was that he regained the series lead ahead of a mid-season break with a four-point advantage over Sébastien Ogier.
Sordo, who scored his previous victory in Germany in 2013, 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.
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 i20, a further 18.9sec behind.
He demoted Elfyn Evans by 0.9sec in the final special stage, a task made harder as the Welshman was this morning credited with 7.0sec after being delayed in the dust of Kris Meeke last night. 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 today, but Tänak’s problems kept him firmly in the title fight, seven points adrift of the lead.
Ogier had a trouble-filled rally. Twice he swiped roadside rocks and broke his C3’s suspension, but he returned to take four bonus points from the Wolf Power Stage.
The championship resumes at the gravel road Neste Rally Finland which is based in Jyväskylä on 1 - 4 August.
Final positions after leg 1:
1. D Sordo / C del Barrio ESP Hyundai i20 3hr 32min 27.2sec
2. T Suninen / M Salminen FIN Ford Fiesta +13.7sec
3. A Mikkelsen / A Jaeger-Amland NOR Hyundai i20 +32.6sec
4. E Evans / S Martin GBR Ford Fiesta +33.5sec
5. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Toyota Yaris +1min 30.1sec
6. T Neuville / N Gilsoul BEL Hyundai i20 +2min 16.7sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 8 of 14)
1. O Tänak 150pts
2. S Ogier 146pts
3. T Neuville 143pts