Andreas Mikkelsen topped the Rally Italia Sardegna leaderboard after Friday morning’s loop of four stages, the Norwegian pulling out a 14-second advantage over Hyundai teammate and FIA World Rally Championship leader Thierry Neuville. Ott Tanak holds third in the lead Toyota, the Estonian just 2.4 seconds further adrift after a tricky morning that has unusually been characterized by rain, mist and changeable conditions.
Italy’s round of the championship got underway last night with a short super special stage on the former Ittiri motocross track, where Sebastien Ogier claimed a tenth of a second advantage over Mikkelsen. Replacing the normal high temperatures and sunshine, rain fell yesterday and then torrential rain greeted the crews early morning. The opening stage — which was always predicted to be the toughest of the event — therefore presented a tricky challenge, mist adding another dimension.
Mikkelsen was on the pace immediately and the Norwegian took fastest time in that first stage by nearly 10 seconds. Confidence running high, he took another stage win in the following test and while ceding victories to his rivals in the following two stages, the Hyundai driver arrived at the mid-leg service with a 14-second lead.
Teammate Neuville had what should have been the unenviable task of running first on the loose gravel roads but, with rain yesterday and this morning, the conditions have played more into his hands and running nearer the front of the field has proved advantageous. The Belgian has also pushed hard to minimize potential time loss and he overhauled Tanak after winning the final stage in the loop.
Tanak heads Toyota’s challenge, although all three Yaris WRC drivers have been struggling in the narrow and twisty sectors, the car performing better in the faster sections. Even so, Tanak won SS4 and is just 2.4 seconds adrift of Neuville after a morning-long battle with the Belgian, and he heads fourth-placed Teemu Suninen by 6.5 seconds.
The Finn, who is in a World Rally Car in Sardinia for the first time, has had a great morning but admits he needs to improve his driving in the slower corners. He also has teammate and multiple FIA World Rally champion Ogier hot on his heels, just one-tenth of a second adrift in fifth. A good tire choice aided the Frenchman this morning but he was at a loss to understand dropping nearly 10 seconds in the second stage.
Jari-Matti Latvala is also close in sixth overall, the Toyota driver in his own comfort zone speed-wise. Mads Ostberg started on fine form, the Norwegian leaping from ninth last night to second after this morning’s first stage. He then struggled with the balance of his Citroen in the second stage and with the changeable weather conditions was on the wrong tires in the third. He dropped back to seventh but, when comparing his times with those running close to him on the road, was reasonably happy back at the Alghero service.
Hayden Paddon, who had hoped his later road position would be beneficial, hasn’t really been able to capitalize because of the damper conditions and was another on the wrong tires in the penultimate stage. Craig Breen had a frustrating morning with an overshoot in the first stage and was also ruing the unusual weather. Esapekka Lappi rounds off the top 10, the Finn dropping time with a puncture and therefore having to back off with just one spare for the remaining stages in the loop. Elfyn Evans had an incredibly disappointing start, the Welshman losing 13 minutes in the first stage when he had to stop and repair broken steering.
In the FIA WRC 2 Championship, Ole Christian Veiby currently holds the advantage, although both Stephane Lefebvre and Hiroki Arai have both led the category. With one stage win, Veiby heads Lefebvre by 4.5 seconds and Pierre-Louis Loubet is third after Arai stopped in the final stage of the loop. Triple FIA European Rally champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz picked up a 10-second jump start penalty last night and a puncture early morning. He is 11th.
Jean-Baptiste Franceschi heads the two-wheel drive FIA WRC 3 Championship in his Fiesta, the Frenchman 35.3 seconds ahead of Finn Taisko Lario.