Sebastien Ogier claimed his fourth World Rally Championship victory of the season today after leading Rally Italia Sardegna from start to finish in a Volkswagen Polo R.
The Frenchman won round seven of 13 on the Mediterranean island by 1min 16.8sec from Thierry Neuville, who claimed a career-best result in a Ford Fiesta RS. Jari-Matti Latvala completed the podium in a Polo R.
Ogier was the class of the field throughout the two-day rally, covering 304.50km of dusty gravel tracks. The Frenchman ended the first leg with a 46.6sec lead, extending it this morning before cruising home. He claimed maximum bonus points in the penultimate Power Stage, too, and his series lead is now 64 points.
“We managed the rally perfectly all the time,” said Ogier. “We pushed when we needed to and were more careful when it was rough and more dangerous for the tyres. In the end it was a perfect win.”
Neuville took his second consecutive podium. Stiffening the set-up and adjusting the brakes in his Fiesta RS transformed its handling and he climbed from sixth to end yesterday in third, hot on the heels of Mikko Hirvonen.
When Hirvonen went off the road in SS10, the pressure was off and the Belgian eased home – despite a bizarre last stage drama.
“We met a cow in the stage and had to slow down and turn around,” he said. “I didn’t stress at all. I had the splits to Latvala and saw it was OK. I think our strategy here was quite good and the last few rallies have been incredible for us,” he added.
Latvala’s rally began perfectly with victory in Thursday’s qualifying stage. However, his hopes were shattered in the opening test when he punctured the front left tyre after just 8km. He lost almost two minutes and lay 12th.
He was fifth last night and his recovery was complete when he climbed to third following Hirvonen’s demise and a mistake from the under-pressure Dani Sordo. The Finn finished 31.2sec behind Neuville and 1min 31.2sec clear of Sordo.
It seemed unlikely Sordo would resist Latvala’s challenge, but a spin sealed his fate. With Citroen team-mate Hirvonen stranded in a ditch, the Spaniard was under firm instructions to come home safely and net vital manufacturers’ points.
Another last day casualty was Andreas Mikkelsen. It was the Norwegian’s 24th birthday but his pursuit of Sordo’s fourth place provided an unwanted present when he slid wide in a slow corner and broke the suspension in his Polo R.
Martin Prokop took fifth after a consistent weekend in his Fiesta RS, more than five minutes behind Sordo and over three minutes clear of Elfyn Evans’ similar car.
After being thrust into his World Rally Car debut at the last minute following Nasser Al-Attiyah’s withdrawal, Evans never put a foot wrong. It was the best World Rally Car debut for a former FIA Academy / JWRC champion – eclipsing Sebastien Loeb.
Evans was just 0.9sec ahead of Michal Kosciuszko’s Fiesta in seventh. Mads Ostberg restarted after last night’s roll to finish eighth with WRC 2 winner Robert Kubica ninth and Khalid Al Qassimi 10th.
Kubica cruises to second WRC-2 win
Robert Kubica secured his second victory in the WRC-2 championship today, dominating the second day of Rally Italia Sardegna to win by a comfortable 4min 17sec from Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari.
Three weeks after securing his maiden WRC-2 victory in Greece, the ex Formula 1 driver was dominant throughout in his Citroen DS3 RRC, taking the lead on the opening stage and going fastest on all but two of the event’s 16 tests.
The Pole carried a lead of 1min 11sec into Saturday’s competition and extended that with every stage to secure another maximum 25 points haul.
“It’s never easy to win, but it has been good weekend,” acknowledged Kubica. “We had some problems with visibility in the dust and an intercom problem but we never lost our concentration. Where we were not sure of our pace we took care to finish the rally.
“Actually, on today’s first loop we were driving so carefully that we were not learning anything, so I tried to push some more in the afternoon – of course taking care not to do too much. I still have much to learn.”
Kubica now lies fourth in the WRC-2 standings, but has contested less rallies than any of the drivers ahead of him.
Nonetheless, Ford Fiesta RRC driver Al-Kuwari was delighted to add another 18 points to his impressive season tally for second place.
“It’s a good result after a tough rally,” said the Qatari. “We’ve extended our championship lead and now I’ll let the European drivers fight it out in Finland and Germany. We expect to be back in Australia.”
Italian driver Lorenzo Bertelli finished third, 2min 01sec behind Al-Kuwari on his first rally in a Ford Fiesta RRC. “It’s been a long time coming, and we’ve had our problems, but I knew we could be here in this position. Third is great and I’m really happy – finally,” he said.
The top five in WRC-2 were unchanged during Saturday’s competition, and Nicolas Fuchs brought his Group N Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X home in fourth, 2min 29sec behind Bertelli. It was the Peruvian driver’s fifth consecutive win in the Production Cup.
Fifth place went to Germany’s Armin Kremer, the Subaru Impreza STi driver finishing 1min 53sec behind Fuchs.
Juan Carlos Alonso, Ala’a Rasheed and Marco Vallario were the only other finishers in WRC-2.