Sardinia, SS2-3: Double for Mikkelsen
Norwegian wins Friday’s opening two stages
Andreas Mikkelsen dominated Friday morning’s opening two speed tests at Rally Italia Sardegna to charge to the top of the leaderboard.
The Norwegian won the 22.12km Tula and the 14.37km Castelsardo in his Hyundai i20 to open a comfortable 15.5sec lead over team-mate Thierry Neuville. His dominance was emphasised by the fact the next four cars were covered by just 3.3sec.
Heavy rain this morning ensured the tricky gravel roads in Tula were wet and patchy fog added extra difficulty. But Mikkelsen rose to the challenge to stop the clocks 9.1sec faster than fellow countryman Mads Østberg in a Citroën C3.
He was 0.8sec quicker than Teemu Suninen’s Ford Fiesta in the drier Castelsardo, despite being one of only three drivers to opt for six Michelin tyres for the morning’s four stages.
“We had a good run in the first one and tried not to attack too much, because if you go sideways you lose speed. There’s still room for improvement but the car is doing what I want. With six soft tyres at least I don’t have to think about punctures,” he said.
The rain was a gift for Neuville, who was first in the start order. The Belgian feared losing time on the slippery loose gravel as he ploughed a cleaner and faster line for those behind, but the wet weather allowed him to post top five times in both tests.
Ott Tänak was just a tenth behind in third in a Toyota Yaris. The Estonian was fourth in Tula and third in Castelsardo, a few set-up tweaks between tests eradicating understeer issues.
Suninen was 3.0sec further back in fourth. The Finn’s Ford Fiesta sported damage to both the front and rear bumpers and he struggled to find a rhythm in the many first and second gear sections.
Østberg was 0.2sec behind and unhappy with his car’s balance. He was 2.9sec ahead of Sébastien Ogier’s Fiesta, the Frenchman candidly admitting: “It looks like we weren’t fast enough.”
Craig Breen lost a handful of seconds in his C3 after overshooting an asphalt junction in Tula while Esapekka Lappi punctured in the same test. With only one spare onboard his Yaris, the Finn faced an ultra-cautious drive through the remaining morning stages.
Elfyn Evans was second fastest midway through Tula before disaster struck. “We couldn’t get it stopped for a right-hander. I put it sideways but touched a bank and damaged the steering arm. We had a spare in the car so we got it replaced,” said the Fiesta driver, who lost 13 minutes.
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