MILAN (Reuters) – Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville crashed out of world rally championship contention on Friday, leaving Toyota’s Elfyn Evans and Sebastien Ogier as front-runners in a three-way title tussle at the season-ending Monza Rally.
Hyundai’s reigning champion Ott Tanak has only an outside chance with the Estonian 28 points adrift of Evans and a maximum of 30 to be won.
Evans, who could become the first Welshman and third Briton to win the title, has a 14 point lead over Ogier and was fourth with the Frenchman third at the end of the first full day’s action.
“A lot of aquaplaning. I was trying to go as fast as I could. I was overcooking in some areas and too slow in others. Not a perfect stage but no mistakes and we are still going,” said Evans, who won stage four.
Neuville went into the rally 10 points behind Ogier but his slim hopes were finally dashed when he clouted a barrier on a wet stage four at the Monza circuit, home to Italy’s Formula One Grand Prix.
The impact damaged the car’s front right suspension and the engine then gave up in standing water as they exited the circuit’s famed banking onto a muddy slope.
The stage was stopped to allow his car to be moved to a safe position, with crews handed notional times.
Hyundai’s Dani Sordo ended the day on top after winning stage six with Ford’s Esapekka Lappi second and one second behind.
Ogier, winner of Thursday’s short opening stage and Friday’s fifth, was 12 seconds off the lead and Evans a further 5.1. Tanak was in fifth place.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ken Ferris)