In a final stage showdown, Thierry Neuville turned a deficit to Sebastien Ogier around to win a nail-biting Rally Italia Sardegna by just 0.7s. The Belgian, who trailed the reigning FIA World Rally champion by 0.8s going into the Power Stage, gave it everything and took the stage win and outright victory on the seventh round of the championship. Esapekka Lappi finished on the podium for the first time this season, the young Finns taking a well-deserved third overall.
Neuville’s win and maximum Power Stage points see him extend his lead at the top of the FIA World Rally Championship standings and the Hyundai driver will be delighted to take a 27-point advantage over Ogier as the series heads into the second half of the season. Behind the second-placed Frenchman, Ott Tanak remains third in the standings, albeit 43 points further adrift. In the Manufacturers’ Championship, Hyundai has more than doubled its advantage and takes a 28-point lead over M-Sport Ford with Toyota Gazoo Racing still third, 23 points further behind. Citroen remains fourth.
After yesterday’s close battle between Ogier and Neuville, the fight raged again this morning and with Neuville starting in second just 3.9 seconds adrift, the Belgian had more than a sniff of victory. As he reeled out stage victory after stage victory, the gap came down and going into the Power Stage a mere eight-tenths of a second separated the championship rivals. An all-out push, not without a mistake, coupled with two mistakes by Ogier, saw the Belgian take his fourth consecutive stage win and ninth WRC victory by just seven-tenths of a second, the equal third-closest finish in WRC history. Behind them, Esapekka Lappi took his first podium of the season, a great feeling for the Finn after disappointments earlier in the season.
At the finish of the event, Ogier and Ingrassia were also handed a fine by the Stewards for leaving the penultimate stage without their time card, which was later given to them by the following car. This is in breach of Article 2.13 of the 2018 FIA WRC Sporting Regulations. Their championship points, as well those of their M-Sport Ford team, were also withdrawn but the withdrawals are applied with a suspension of sentence that will become immediately applicable should they commit a further infringement of the Article before the end of the season.
Hayden Paddon and Mads Ostberg went into the day just seconds apart but the Norwegian found it difficult to push today and as he became more focused on finishing, he slid further adrift of the fourth-placed New Zealander who enjoyed his best result this season. Craig Breen had a spin in the second stage but maintained sixth, just behind his teammate. Jari-Matti Latvala managed to overhaul Jan Kopecky for seventh this morning and then stalled in the Power Stage, losing some precious seconds.
Tanak, who won the event last year, was on a no-risk strategy today and he finished eighth behind teammate Latvala. Kopecky maintained his position inside the top 10, ninth overall and the FIA WRC 2 Championship category win a great result for the Czech driver. Teemu Suninen ultimately finished 10th, the Finn now looking forward to his high-speed home event next month.
In the FIA WRC 3 Championship, Jean-Baptiste Franceschi took two stage wins today en route to a dominant victory in the two-wheel drive category.
The FIA World Rally Championship contenders now take a six-week break ahead of the eighth round of the series, Rally Finland (July 26-29).
Rally Italia Sardegna – Final unofficial results (subject to scrutineering)
|1||Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||3hr 29min 18.7sec|
|2||Sebastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia||Ford Fiesta WRC||3hr 29min 19.4sec|
|3||Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm||Toyota Yaris WRC||3hr 31min 15.0sec|
|4||Hayden Paddon / Sebastian Marshall||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||3hr 32min 13.9sec|
|5||Mads Ostberg / Torstein Eriksen||Citroen C3 WRC||3hr 32min 29.6sec|
|6||Craig Breen / Scott Martin||Citroen C3 WRC||3hr 33min 50.4sec|
|7||Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila||Toyota Yaris WRC||3hr 40min 40.8sec|
|8||Ott Tanak / Martin Jarveoja||Toyota Yaris WRC||3hr 41min 56.9sec|
|9||Jan Kopecky / Pavel Dresler||Škoda Fabia R5||3hr 42min 33.3sec|
|10||Teemu Suninen / Mikko Markkula||Ford Fiesta WRC||3hr 44min 49.1sec|