MILAN (Reuters) - Sebastien Ogier was set for a seventh world rally title in eight years after championship-leading Toyota team mate Elfyn Evans crashed in the season-ending Monza Rally on Saturday.
The Frenchman, who completed the penultimate day with a 17.8-second lead over Hyundai's Spaniard Dani Sordo, cannot rest easy however since he still has to overhaul Evans's 14-point advantage.
He faces three more stages on Sunday at the Monza circuit, the historic 'Cathedral of Speed' that hosts Italy's Formula One Grand Prix, after Saturday's snowy stages in the Alpine foothills near Como.
Evans had hoped to become the third Briton, and first Welshman, to win the title after the late Colin McRae in 1995 and Richard Burns in 2001.
He was running in third place when he skidded off on an icy stage 11, the car going down a bank and into trees. The crew were unhurt but could not get the Yaris back on the road.
The Welshman ran back on to the road to warn the approaching Ogier of the danger.
"It was incredible, there is nothing Elfyn could do. I am very sorry for him. The championship is not over," said Ogier after negotiating the stage and saluting the sporting gesture.
"It was just like glass and there was no chance of us slowing down at all. It completely caught me by surprise," said Evans.
"You’re not going to win anything by sitting around at the back and I think everybody was having to take some sort of chance."
Team boss and retired four-times world champion Tommi Makinen commiserated with the Welshman, who could still return for Sunday in the hope of scoring points in the final Power Stage where a maximum five are available.
"Elfyn handled it very well and had an incredible drive. It's so difficult to understand what is the correct speed in these kinds of conditions," he said.
Reigning champion Ott Tanak, who remains in mathematical contention, ended the day third for Hyundai who were on course to take the manufacturers' title.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, Editing by Ken Ferris and Clare Fallon)