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Sebastien Ogier edged Mads Ostberg by a tenth of a second to set fastest time in Thursday morning’s shakedown for Rally Italia Sardegna.
The Frenchman topped the times through the 3.00km Olmedo test on his fourth and final run in his Volkswagen Polo R. Ostberg almost pipped him with the last of his five runs but fell just short in his Ford Fiesta RS.
Estonia’s Ott Tanak was quickest in the first two passes in his Fiesta RS, using soft tyres to their full benefit on the short gravel stage, before ending 0.7sec behind Ogier in third.
Ogier tested different tyre options in a quest to find the optimum combination that might offset the disadvantage of opening the roads for the first two days, cleaning small stones to leave more grip for his rivals behind.
He was coy about what worked best but undoubtedly mixed hard and soft compound rubber in a bid to find a combination that could offer improved grip.
“I started with soft and finished with hard,” he said. “Tyre choice is something that we play with against the other drivers so I can’t say too much. But we know the softs can suffer a lot here sometimes with the temperature and the abrasive ground.
“Let’s see if we can play a bit with that but with our road position we have to take more risks because otherwise we will lose time. We have to think a bit more about it and hopefully we are going to make the perfect choice. I just know it would be a great achievement to finish on the podium,” he added.
Hyundai i20s filled the rest of the top six places. Thierry Neuville was a tenth of a second adrift of T?nak in fourth, with Hayden Paddon a further 0.5sec behind and Kevin Abbring rounding off the top half dozen in his 2015-specification car.
Sebastien Ogier won Thursday evening’s opening speed test at Rally Italia Sardegna after defeating Hayden Paddon in the final heat at Ittiri Arena.
The FIA World Rally Championship leader completed the 2.00km test three-tenths of a second faster than Ott Tanak and Jari-Matti Latvala, who both won their heats, in his Volkswagen Polo R.
“It’s always good to be fastest, especially here,” said the Frenchman. “It’s great to see such an atmosphere and so many enthusiastic fans.”
An estimated 10,000 people packed the former autocross arena and they watched Ford Fiesta RS driver T?nak beat Thierry Neuville, while Latvala overcame Dani Sordo’s Hyundai i20 in their respective heats.
Kevin Abbring and Andreas Mikkelsen were tied for fourth place, 0.6sec off Ogier’s pace, with Hyundai team-mates Neuville and Paddon level in sixth.
Valeriy Gorban spun his Mini John Cooper Works at the first two corners and was overtaken by Abbring. The Ukraine driver suspected a differential or driveshaft broke before the start.
Martin Prokop started the rally with a five minute penalty for breaking the seal on a rear differential to carry out repairs following last month’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
After an overnight halt in the rally base of Alghero, the rally continues tomorrow with a morning loop of four rough-road gravel stages north-east of the town, which is repeated in the afternoon after service. The eight stages cover 102.86km.
Sebastien Ogier led Rally Italia Sardegna after Friday morning’s opening two speed tests in which he and team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala claimed a win each.
Latvala was fastest by 1.3sec from Hayden Paddon through the short opener from Ardara to Ozieri to take the lead from overnight incumbent Ogier. The Frenchman fought back to win the longer Tula and regain top spot in his Volkswagen Polo R by six-tenths of a second.
Road opener Ogier gambled by choosing soft compound Michelin rubber in a bid to obtain more grip on the slippery dry gravel roads. It worked for him in Tula, but he was concerned over the impact the heat and hard-packed roads were having on the rubber.
“It’s tough, on the limit and maybe a little bit over, but with the conditions here as they are I had to try it. The first stage was more slippery than I expected, but no big surprises,” he said.
Tyre choice was the big talking point, several drivers opting for hard compound rubber for the front and soft on the rear as they searched for good grip. Latvala was one of those, but the Finn struggled with the balance of his Polo R.
“It’s difficult to say who is right but I struggled with understeer and oversteer. The balance wasn’t ideal but we made the choice for the whole loop and I think we have the right plan,” he explained.
Thierry Neuville was third in SS3 and third overall in his Hyundai i20, only 2.4sec behind Ogier. Andreas Mikkelsen followed Ogier’s lead on tyres and was fourth with Hayden Paddon and Mads Ostberg completing the top six, who were covered by less than 10 seconds.
Ott Tanak spun his Ford Fiesta RS in SS2 while a broken propshaft cost Hyundai’s Kevin Abbring more than three minutes. Eric Camilli dropped a minute in Tula with what the Frenchman believed was a broken rear differential in his Ford Fiesta RS.
Valeriy Gorban and Yazeed Al Rajhi both rolled just 700 metres after the start of the opener and retired.
Consecutive stage wins propelled Thierry Neuville into the lead of Rally Italia Sardegna as drivers returned to Alghero for service after Friday morning’s four speed tests.
He took advantage of cleaner roads lower down the start order to win both the Casterlsardo and Tergu - Osilo special stages in his Hyundai i20 to head Jari-Matti Latvala by 1.5sec.
The lead of this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship has changed hands after every stage so far. Latvala replaced series leader Sébastien Ogier at the front after Castelsardo before Neuville continued the merry-go-round.
The Belgian conceded a handful of seconds with a SS4 spin but was in high spirits after a tough start to the season. “Of course there is some road cleaning which we try to turn to our advantage. Apart from the spin I think we can be pleased with the morning,” he said.
Latvala was second in both tests and headed Volkswagen Polo R team-mate Ogier by 22.2sec, both pronouncing themselves happy with their contrasting tyre choices. Road opener Ogier’s gamble on soft tyres left them badly worn, but he was convinced he lost less time on the slippery dry roads than with harder rubber.
Mads Ostberg appeared to have put his gearchange issues of previous rallies behind him to hold fourth in a Ford Fiesta RS, 1.8sec behind Ogier. Andreas Mikkelsen, who also gambled on soft rubber, was fifth with Dani Sordo completing the top six despite oversteer issues.
Henning Solberg was seventh, despite stopping twice in SS4, ahead of flying WRC 2 leader Teemu Suninen. Hayden Paddon and Ott Tanak completed the leaderboard.
Paddon spun in Castelsardo and then hit a wall as he turned around in thick dust. The impact bent a rear suspension link which he replaced before the next stage having dropped 45 sec. Estonian Tanak lost 40sec after completing SS5 with badly worn rubber.
Lorenzo Bertelli was on the verge of the top 10 until a rear differential problem and a rear puncture cost almost 90sec, while Kevin Abbring and Eric Camilli continued to struggle with a broken propshaft and broken rear differential respectively.
SS7 TULA 2 (15.00 km)
The pendulum swung back and forth again as the enthralling fight for the lead between Thierry Neuville and Jari-Matti Latvala continued unabated through Friday afternoon’s opening two special stages.
Latvala was fastest in the repeat of Ardara - Ozieri in his Volkswagen Polo R to relegate lunchtime leader Neuville to second by nine-tenths of a second. However, Neuville retaliated to win the following Tula and move back in front by 3.5sec in his Hyundai i20.
“I pushed hard in this one,” said Neuville at the finish of Tula. “The car is working well in these conditions. When the ruts are made I can push the car into the corners, but when it’s loose like this morning then it’s more difficult.”
Hayden Paddon was third fastest in SS6 but a disappointing day for the Kiwi ended early when he went off at the final corner of Tula and retired his Hyundai i20.
Fourth and third fastest times kept S?bastien Ogier in touch with the leading duo, although the gap to the front rose to 29.3sec.
Mads ?stberg was the only top driver to go into the afternoon with two spare wheels, and the extra weight affected the balance of his Ford Fiesta RS. The Norwegian remained fourth but fellow countryman Andreas Mikkelsen reduced the gap to 5.1sec with top four times in both tests.
Henning Solberg lost places after the throttle in his Fiesta RS stuck open, while Eric Camilli shed a few more seconds after his similar car began to veer to the left and the Frenchman spun at a hairpin. However, he resolved the issue in time for the Tula stage.
A rejuvenated Thierry Neuville banished memories of a torrid start to the season to lead Rally Italia Sardegna on Friday night after an enthralling duel with Jari-Matti Latvala.
The lead changed hands on every rough road speed test as the pair fought tooth and nail in intense heat. Neuville eventually eased ahead in late afternoon to eke out an 11.1sec advantage in his Hyundai i20 as Latvala fought handling issues.
Neuville [above] scored points only twice in the opening five WRC rounds, but he and Latvala were aided by good grip on roads cleaned of slippery dry gravel by those ahead in the start order.
Latvala and championship leader Sebastien Ogier swapped the lead during the morning but Latvala ended the four stages eight-tenths of a second ahead of Neuville. They traded top spot this afternoon before fastest time in the final two stages enabled Neuville to pull clear.
“I think everyone is happy to see us back in front,” said Neuville. “I was helped by the cleaner roads in the morning, but in the afternoon we kept good pace and that increased our confidence. I hope we can continue in the same rhythm tomorrow. We had many issues at the end of last year and this year and it’s well-deserved.”
Latvala battled an understeering Volkswagen Polo R, but still won two stages compared to Neuville’s four. “I can’t get out of the corners properly and the car is difficult to drive. It got worse in the afternoon. I couldn’t attack and the tyres were wearing,” he said.
Road opener Ogier gambled with soft compound Michelin tyres when temperatures were cooler this morning to try to improve grip on the slippery gravel. He held the leading duo in check but slipped back this afternoon to end 40.3sec off the lead.
Andreas Mikkelsen overhauled Mads Ostberg in the final stage to grab fourth by 1.0sec in his Polo R, ?stberg’s decision to carry two spare wheels this afternoon upsetting the balance of his Ford Fiesta RS. Dani Sordo completed the top six, a further 20.1sec behind.
Henning Solberg was seventh, despite a sticking throttle in his Fiesta RS, with Ott Tanak, WRC 2 leader Umberto Scandola and Esapekka Lappi completing the leaderboard.
Hayden Paddon rolled heavily down a hillside into retirement, Eric Camilli dropped several minutes with a broken rear differential and Kevin Abbring struggled all morning in two-wheel drive when the propshaft broke on his Hyundai i20 before the opening stage.
Saturday’s marathon leg comprises more than half the rally’s distance. After a 05.30 start, drivers tackle three stages near Budduso, which are repeated in the afternoon after service. The last test of each loop is the classic 44.26km Monte Lerno, featuring the spectacular Micky’s Jump.
Kevin Abbring claimed his first WRC stage victory when he topped the timesheets in Saturday morning’s opening Monte di Ala’ speed test at Rally Italia Sardegna.
Driving Hyundai’s 2015-specification i20, Abbring took advantage of the good grip generated by his low start position to finish 2.3sec clear of Eric Camilli, and deny the Frenchman his maiden success.
“It feels really good, It was difficult after yesterday morning’s loop, but we changed something on the car which improved the balance and it feels really good now. I have confidence in the car and it’s working well,” said Abbring.
The Dutchman couldn’t repeat the feat in the following test from Coiluna to Loelle which fell to Ott Tanak. The Estonian was 1.3sec quicker in his Ford Fiesta RS than Jari-Matti Latvala, who edged slightly closer to Thierry Neuville in their battle for the lead.
Neville’s third fastest time in Monti di Ala’ enabled the Belgian to widen his advantage over Latvala to 11.7sec. However, Latvala reclaimed 2.0sec in the next test to leave the gap at 9.7sec with one stage remaining of the morning.
Neuville made a slight error in the opener when he slid wide at a junction after dust coming into the car affected his concentration. He was less happy after the next test, the rear of the i20 moving in the fast sections.
“It wasn’t so nice. I didn’t want to take any risks because it was narrow with a lot of trees and I was worried we could hit them,” explained Neuville, whose team-mate Dani Sordo reported similar issues.
Road opener Sebastien Ogier struggled in the loose gravel and Volkswagen Polo R team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen narrowed the gap between them to 8.5sec in their fight for third.
Thierry Neuville led Rally Italia Sardegna following Saturday morning’s three speed tests but Jari-Matti Latvala slashed the margin between the pair in the daunting Monte Lerno special stage.
Neuville complained of handling issues at the rear of his Hyundai i20 and yielded almost seven seconds to the Finn, leaving the gap at 2.9sec as drivers returned to service.
“I had problems keeping the car in the clean line and maybe towards the end I was slightly too careful. I can’t do much more,” said a deflated Neuville after the 44.26km marathon.
Latvala was second fastest, the Finn happy with his option of hard compound rubber at the front and soft at the rear of his Volkswagen Polo R.
The battle for third intensified with Sebastien Ogier, Mads Ostberg and Andreas Mikkelsen covered by 3.2sec. Road opener Ogier conceded nearly 15sec as he swept the loose gravel from the surface, while Ostberg leapfrogged Mikkelsen into fourth and moved to within 0.3sec of the championship leader.
Ostberg won the stage and credited a late change of mind over tyres. After seeing Ogier opt for soft compound rubber, the Norwegian quickly abandoned his plan to do the same and fitted hard rubber to the front of his Ford Fiesta RS.
Dani Sordo regretted choosing soft rubber for his Hyundai i20 but retained sixth, more than a minute clear of Ott Tanak’s Fiesta RS, with Henning Solberg a further minute back in eighth in a similar car.
The rest of the leaderboard was unconfirmed as several drivers were delayed following an accident involving Lorenzo Bertelli’s Fiesta RS. Co-driver Simone Scattolin was taken to hospital for precautionary checks.
Kevin Abbring dropped more than seven minutes after a double puncture in his i20 while WRC 2 leader Esapekka Lappi went off 3km after the start and retired.
Thierry Neuville stretched his Rally Italia Sardegna advantage through Saturday afternoon’s opening two speed tests as heavy rain added an extra dimension to this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Jari-Matti Latvala reduced the Belgian’s lead to 2.9sec this morning, but Neuville delivered a crushing win in the second pass of Monti di Ala’ (SS13) to open the advantage to 13.7sec in his Hyundai i20.
Latvala bounced back to win the following test from Coiluna to Loelle by eight-tenths of a second in his Volkswagen Polo R, leaving the margin at 12.9sec heading into the repeat of the marathon Monte Lerno.
“I started the second test under heavy rain for the opening 6-7km and it was very tricky,” said Neuville. “I tried to run out of the ruts to avoid the water and I did quite well, but could have done better. I limited the damage because I expected to lose more.”
Latvala was also troubled by rain at the start but the Finn admitted he was too cautious in the previous test. “The stage had a lot of rocks and I wanted to be careful, but maybe I was too careful,” he explained.
Sebastien Ogier was third in both tests to retain third in the standings but the Frenchman was concerned. “I have a problem with the car. The rear was unstable, it may be something from the differential. I tried to fight hard but it was uncomfortable to drive,” he said.
Ogier was 9.6sec clear of Mads Ostberg but the three-car fight for third went down to two as Andreas Mikkelsen (above) retired his Polo R after crashing into a rock and breaking a track control arm. He earlier received a 10sec penalty after leaving service late when a sensor change took longer than expected.
Ott Tanak punctured his Ford Fiesta’s front left tyre in Monti di Ala’ but the Estonian was up to sixth after Mikkelsen’s demise.
Thierry Neuville distanced Jari-Matti Latvala with a powerful Saturday afternoon charge to carry a healthy lead into tomorrow’s final leg of Rally Italia Sardegna.
Latvala reduced Neuville’s Friday night lead to less than three seconds this morning as handling issues hindered the Hyundai i20 driver. But the Belgian [above] won two of this afternoon’s three speed tests to rebuild his lead and end 16.1sec clear.
High temperatures, rocky gravel roads and heavy rain presented a tough challenge in a day which contained more than half the event’s distance and Neuville was up to it.
“The car was amazing to drive in slippery conditions,” he said. “We’ve had another good day and it was a pleasure to fight Jari-Matti. Tomorrow will be tough but we’ll prepare properly and continue fighting.”
An overnight gearbox change left Latvala more confident with his Volkswagen Polo R’s handling. After eating into Neuville’s lead he looked certain to move ahead but applauded his rival’s drive through the final marathon 44.26km Monte Lerno test.
“I can’t do better than that. I did a really good run and if Thierry is faster then respect to him. I was a bit too careful earlier this afternoon, but sometimes you have to play safe,” said Latvala.
Championship leader Sebastien Ogier was 58.9sec adrift of Latvala in third. As road opener he endured the worst of the conditions, cleaning the dry gravel off the surface to leave better grip for those behind.
Less than four seconds covered Ogier, Mads Ostberg and Andreas Mikkelsen after the morning as the Norwegian duo closed on the struggling Frenchman. However, both Scandinavians retired in the afternoon to leave Ogier over a minute clear of Dani Sordo.
Mikkelsen was first to go, exiting fifth with a broken track control arm on his Polo R after hitting a rock. Then Ostberg parked his Ford Fiesta RS near the finish of the final stage after clipping a rock and breaking the front right suspension.
Sordo survived a sticking throttle to head Ott Tänak by 2min 31.4sec. The Estonian had tyre problems in the high temperatures but showed his pace by winning the day’s second test.
Henning Solberg completed the top six ahead of Eric Camilli, who produced the best gravel performance of his career with top three times in all three morning tests. The rest of the leaderboard was unconfirmed pending clarification of times on a disrupted Monte Lerno stage (SS12).
Haydon Paddon did not restart after yesterday’s crash while Hyundai team-mate Kevin Abbring celebrated the first stage win of his career before a double puncture and gearbox problems slowed him.
Thierry Neuville outpaced closest rival Jari-Matti Latvala in Sunday morning’s opening two speed tests at Rally Italia Sardegna, prompting the Finn to concede defeat in this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Neuville won the opening Cala Flumini test by 3.1sec in his Hyundai i20 from Latvala. He gained another fourth-tenths of a second in the following special stage from Sassari to Argentiera to increase the lead to 19.4sec with only a repeat of the two tests remaining.
“I tried to have a clean and proper run and it’s a good start to the day,” said Neuville. “When everything is balanced with the car it’s fun and I’m enjoying it.”
Volkswagen Polo R pilot Latvala admitted the gap was now too big. “I have no chance to catch Thierry unless he makes a mistake. I lost three seconds in the first stage and the gap is nearly 20sec, so I’m trying to find a comfortable rhythm and not taking big risks,” he said.
Third placed Sebastien Ogier overshot a junction in Cala Flumini while the man behind him in fourth, Dani Sordo, did the same in the next test.
Eric Camilli overhauled Henning Solberg for sixth in the opener and celebrated by setting the first fastest time of his career in the next test. The Frenchman feared he had a problem after stopping between the flying finish and the stop line but his M-Sport team confirmed all was well with the Ford Fiesta RS.
Solberg struggled with broken suspension at the rear of his similar car while Kevin Abbring stopped briefly after his i20 refused to downshift.
SS19 SASSARI - ARGENTIERA 2 - Power Stage (6.07 km)
Thierry Neuville became the fifth different winner in five WRC rounds when he won Rally Italia Sardegna on Sunday afternoon.
The Belgian banished memories of a torrid start to the 2016 season by claiming his second career victory in a Hyundai i20. He headed Jari-Matti Latvala’s Volkswagen Polo R by 24.8sec after four-days of rough gravel speed tests on the Mediterranean island.
Championship leader Sebastien Ogier extended his points advantage by finishing third in another Polo R, a further 1min 13.0sec behind.
Despite overshooting a hairpin bend, Ogier won the final live TV Power Stage to claim three bonus points. Dutchman Kevin Abbring took two points for second in an i20, while Latvala claimed the final point in third.
Hyundai stung by €50,000 fine
Hyundai Motorsport was hit by a massive €50,000 fine late on Sunday after admitting fitting the wrong rear side windows to Rally Italia Sardegna winner Thierry Neuville's car.
Neuville faced an anxious wait to see if he would keep his win after event Stewards investigated a report from FIA Technical Delegate, Jérôme Touquet, following post-event scrutineering.
Team boss Michel Nandan admitted the windows on Neuville's i20 were not the same as those submitted in photographs in the homologation form.
He said the illegal windows had been used in all their 2016 cars since January's Rallye Monte-Carlo and accepted they made a mistake in the homologation process.
Nandan explained that the windows shown on the homologation form could not be fitted into the rear doors of the finished car. The car was originally presented for inspection with the doors unassembled and the team did not realise that the windows could not be fitted into them.
Stewards were told the new windows were 17g lighter on one side and 19g lighter on the other.
Nandan declined to comment on the decision but wrc.com understands that the team will not appeal.
Long-standing World Rally Championship privateer Martin Prokop has walked away from the series following the five-minute penalty he was handed ahead of the Rally Italy start.
The transmission seals on the Jipocar Czech National Team's Ford Fiesta RS WRC were broken, contravening championship regulations.
Team manager Quirin Muller said he had no problem with the rule, just the implementation - arguing they had done exactly the same, with the full knowledge of the FIA, and not been penalised in Portugal.
The private team only has a limited number of transmissions, which means they have to break the seals to repair them between rallies.
Muller told Autosport: "It's unfair. This destroyed Martin's race.
"They could suspend the penalty, but not this.
"We are a private team, we're not fighting for the podium.
"This showed us that privateers are not needed in this championship."
Prokop, who has started 117 rounds of the WRC and won the 2009 Junior title, finished 11th last weekend but would have been challenging for eighth without the penalty in Sardinia.
He said it had soured his feelings towards the WRC and he would now concentrate on his second Dakar Rally bid.
"All we needed was a conversation [with the FIA]," said Prokop.
"I have some other projects and this has changed my mind a little bit, I don't want to be here anymore.
"So I will work on the Dakar car. We will do some more testing and then I try to do a cross-country event at the end of August to get ready."
FIA rally director Jarmo Mahonen admitted the case had raised the need for change.
"The regulation is clear and that is why this decision has been taken," he said.
"The stewards have notified the competitor that if there is any new evidence, of course, we will revisit the case afterwards, which is allowed by the International Sporting Code.
"I understand the competitor and their frustration.
"This case confirms my personal view that we cannot have the same policy for the privateers and manufacturers.
"We will revisit the restrictions like the system of links for next year."