Rally Sardinia, friday: Sordo claims first leg lead
Tough day for title challengers Ogier and Neuville
SS2-3: Double delight for Suninen
Teemu Suninen won Friday morning’s opening two speed tests at Rally Italia Sardegna to charge into the lead.
The Finn, partnered by experienced co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen for the first time, relegated overnight leader Sébastien Ogier by winning the Tula special stage by 4.8sec from Ford Fiesta team-mate Elfyn Evans.
He repeated the feat in Castelsardo, 1.7sec quicker than Jari-Matti Latvala to head the Toyota Yaris driver by 10.6sec in the overall standings with two more stages remaining of the morning loop.
Suninen and Latvala were both caught out by a tricky left corner in Castelsardo.
“After the compression there was a very slippery left bend and we almost overshot. Luckily we managed to keep the engine running and we only lost a few seconds,” explained Latvala.
Evans was 1.4sec back in third. The Welshman was fifth in Castelsardo to add to second fastest in Tula but was unhappy with his Fiesta’s brakes. Dani Sordo was 3.4sec behind in fourth, despite puncturing the rear left tyre on his Hyundai i20 in Tula.
Hot and dry conditions meant the early starters struggled for grip on the sandy roads. Ott Tänak fared best of the three principal title challengers who started at the head of the running order. The Estonian was sixth in a Yaris, 16.4sec off the lead.
Esapekka Lappi completed the top six but the Finn suspected a front differential problem as he struggled to wrestle his Citroën C3 around the narrow and twisty tracks.
Road opener Sébastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville, third in the start order, coped less well than Tänak. Ogier was almost 30sec off the lead in 10th in his C3 with Neuville two places better off in eighth.
Tyre options were varied, but while all the other frontrunners included at least two hard compound Michelins in their selection, Neuville opted for six mediums. The Belgian was more concerned about the weight of carrying an extra spare, which adversely affected his i20’s handling.
Team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen also leaned towards medium compounds and was clear that was a mistake. “Completely wrong tyre choice. Nothing we can do but the car is everywhere,” said the Norwegian, who lay seventh.
SS4-5: Latvala leads, Ogier out
Jari-Matti Latvala led a closely-fought Rally Italia Sardegna after a hot and dusty quartet of speed tests on Friday morning which ended in retirement for WRC leader Sébastien Ogier.
Latvala headed Toyota Yaris team-mate Ott Tänak by 2.8sec, but the morning ended in disappointment for Ogier who parked his Citroën C3 1km from the start of the closing Monte Baranta test with broken suspension.
The Frenchman trailed Latvala by almost 30sec in ninth after struggling for grip on sandy gravel tracks. That became irrelevant when he cut a left bend too tightly, hitting a roadside rock (pictured) which pitched the car onto two wheels and shattered the suspension.
Less than six seconds blanketed the top four drivers. While Latvala didn’t win a stage, his consistency enabled him to demote Teemu Suninen from top spot despite almost rolling and later stalling his engine in a hairpin.
“I knew it was going to be a hard morning. I took five hard tyres and it was the correct choice. It’s tricky when you have a road position that allows you to push. You can wear the tyres, so you have to find a balance between pushing and saving them,” said Latvala.
Tänak’s second place was a surprise, given the Estonian was second in the start order. The sandy surface meant the early runners cleaned the roads, creating better grip for those further back.
He had 0.7sec in hand over Dani Sordo’s Hyundai i20, the Spaniard coping without a spare tyre after using it to replace a first stage puncture. Elfyn Evans was another 2.4sec back, despite handling issues that prompted him to lock his Ford Fiesta’s differentials.
Team-mate Suninen slipped to fifth after a spin in Tergu-Osilo knocked his confidence, while Thierry Neuville rounded off the top six in another i20. The Belgian was the only driver to choose Michelin’s medium compound tyres all round and it was a decision he regretted.
“It probably wasn’t the best choice. We carried more extra weight and in these narrow stages with stones outside, the car was dancing and you can’t keep it straight,” he explained.
Team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen was seventh ahead of Kris Meeke, who lacked experience of the stages but was less than 20sec off the lead.
Esapekka Lappi dropped down the order in Tergu-Osilo with a rear puncture on his C3 but recovered to win Monte Baranta. The Finn was ninth and headed fellow countryman Juho Hänninen, who completed the leaderboard.
SS6-7: Latvala, Neuville hit trouble
Jari-Matti Latvala rolled out of the Rally Italia Sardegna lead on Friday afternoon as Thierry Neuville’s WRC title challenge also received a setback when he damaged his car’s radiator after crashing into a ditch.
Latvala started the afternoon with a 2.8sec lead over Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Ott Tänak but the Finn rolled his Yaris two-thirds of the way through the Tula speed test.
He and co-driver Miikka Anttila manhandled the car back onto four wheels before limping to the finish with a smashed windscreen and panel damage. They lost almost 8min 30sec.
An exhausted Latvala slumped by the roadside before receiving medical treatment, after which he was given the all clear to continue. The shattered windscreen was removed.
“I used so much power to get the car back on its wheels. There were no people there, nobody would help. I cut the hairpin a little bit and we rolled from there,” he explained.
Neuville’s drama happened less than a kilometre before the finish of Tula. The Belgian lost control of his Hyundai i20 which slid nose first into a ditch. Onboard footage revealed co-drive Nicolas Gilsoul apologising to Neuville as the car went off the road.
“We had a misunderstanding with the pace notes,” said Neuville, who stopped on the following liaison section to plug two holes in his car’s radiator, which was leaking fluid.
“It can happen, it’s part of the game. I don’t blame anyone. We had to fix the car. We can drive and it’s OK but it’s all shaking around and I don’t want to damage it further,” he added.
Teemu Suninen was fastest in his Ford Fiesta by 3.4sec from Dani Sordo, with Ott Tänak a further 0.7sec adrift leaving the leaderboard delicately poised. Sordo and Tänak were tied at the top, with Suninen just 0.8sec behind.
The following Castelsardo test was cancelled following a medical emergency in the stage involving a spectator. Only Tänak, Neuville and Evans started before the test was halted, and remaining competitors were diverted to SS8 using an alternative route. Notional times will be issued later.
After SS9: Sordo claims first leg lead
Dani Sordo led Rally Italia Sardegna on Friday night as the captivating three-way battle in the FIA World Rally Championship took many twists and turns on hot and dusty Mediterranean island roads.
The Spaniard, driving a Hyundai i20, finished a drama-filled leg with a 10.8sec advantage over Teemu Suninen. Ott Tänak, the only driver of the title-tussling trio to steer clear of trouble, was a further 0.4sec back.
On a day in which five drivers led, Sordo moved to the front this afternoon. Although he won just one of the eight rocky and abrasive dirt road speed tests, he pulled clear in the final three after he and Tänak were tied at the top.
Sandy tracks covering a rocky base meant early starters struggled for grip. As one of the last frontrunners to start, Sordo benefited from a cleaner and faster line as those ahead swept the sand away.
“It was a hard day with high temperatures inside the cars and for the tyres, but I was on the right pace all the time. We had a little bit of an advantage because we started further back. I really want to fight for the victory, but it will be tough to hold off Ott,” he said.
Championship leader Sébastien Ogier had a disastrous day. He was almost 30sec off the lead in ninth when he hit a rock which shattered his Citroën C3’s suspension. Retirement was instant.
Thierry Neuville, third in the title fight, salvaged a ragged day to finish seventh. The Belgian twice made a wrong tyre choice, while a series of off-road errors, one of which followed a pace note mix-up and damaged his i20’s radiator, cost more time.
Suninen was the early leader in a Ford Fiesta after winning two stages, but a spin set him back. A third stage victory this afternoon helped to regain lost ground and he edged back ahead of Tänak in the final test.
Despite opening the roads following Ogier’s retirement, Tänak excelled in his Toyota Yaris to head Andreas Mikkelsen’s i20 by 9.0sec. Elfyn Evans was only a tenth behind in fifth, despite overshooting a hairpin in his Fiesta.
Kris Meeke was sixth in another Yaris, almost half a minute clear of Neuville, with Esapekka Lappi in eighth. Lappi lost time with a puncture and engine sensor issue which slowed his C3, but the Finn showed good pace to win a stage.
Juho Hänninen and WRC 2 leader Pierre-Louis Loubet completed the leaderboard.
Jari-Matti Latvala led after the morning loop but it went badly wrong this afternoon when he rolled his Toyota Yaris. He battled on without a windscreen and remarkably won the next stage, but retired after going off the road in the final test.
Saturday is the longest leg. Three tightly-clustered stages east of Alghero are driven morning and afternoon, adding up to 142.42km. The highlight is the famous Micky’s Jump in the Monte Lerno test, where cars fly high as the road literally drops away beneath them.