Munchi's retire after problems in Sardinia For the first time so far this season Munchi's Ford WRT driver Federico Villagra failed to score driver or manufacturer points in the FIA World Rally Championship as he withdrew from Rally d'Italia ...
Munchi's retire after problems in Sardinia
For the first time so far this season Munchi's Ford WRT driver Federico Villagra failed to score driver or manufacturer points in the FIA World Rally Championship as he withdrew from Rally d'Italia Sardegna midway through day two of the event.
Villagra had gone into the sixth round of the championship full of confidence after achieving his best ever WRC finish, fourth place, at his home rally in Argentina last month. But mechanical problems on day one effectively ended his challenge for a top-ten place and with co-driver Jorge Perez Companc suffering from illness throughout the event the duo decided that they were unable to continue after Saturday morning's stages.
The rally got underway with a ceremonial start at the town hall in Olbia on Thursday night witnessed by thousands of fans. But the real action started on Friday morning as the crews headed south-west of Service Park in Olbia towards the centre of the Mediterranean island.
With temperatures soaring well above those normally expected in Sardinia in May dust was a major problem for all of the 60 starters while the Pirelli Scorpion tyres were tested on the hard, rocky roads.
The rally started badly for Villagra as his launch control failed and he was forced to use the manual start procedure on his Ford Focus RS WRC. Despite this problem the first loop of stages was relatively trouble-free for the seven-time Argentine champion. But his challenge was effectively ended on SS4 Sa Conchedda when the clutch shaft broke forcing his retirement from day one.
The Munchi's team worked hard to fix the car overnight and Villagra and Companc went back out on day two with the aim of picking up valuable manufacturer points for the team.
The second day of the rally included two new stages and they were to be some of the toughest of the FIA World Rally Championship season so far as drivers experienced heavily rutted roads and had to avoid large rocks and tree stumps in the hottest conditions of the season so far.
On the first stage of the day, SS7 Sa Linea, the loose, rutted surface got the better of Villagra as he spun the car, losing a few seconds. But on SS8 the problem with the launch control returned and he was forced to use the manual start procedure again losing even more time.
Throughout the rally co-driver Companc had been feeling unwell and the team took the decision to retire at the midday service halt.
Despite their failure to finish in Sardinia the Munchi's Ford team remain well placed to catch the Citroen Junior team in the manufacturer championship, lying just 12 points behind the French team. Villagra remains in the top eight in the drivers' standings on nine points and will be back in action at the Acropolis Rally in Greece next month.
Other rally news
BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver Jari-Matti Latvala had plenty to celebrate as he took his first victory of the season and a first victory for the team. With Ford team mate Mikko Hirvonen finishing in second place the result marks a significant step forward for the team in their battle to catch Citroen in the manufacturer standings. Sebastien Loeb was handed a two-minute time penalty after the finish of the rally, for a seatbelt infringement as he prepared to change his punctured tyre on day two, relegating him to fourth place.
Petter Solberg, enjoying his first outing in his updated Citroen Xsara picked up his second podium of the season. Citroen Junior driver Evgeny Novikov completed an impressive performance to finish in fifth place, a career-best performance for the young Russian.
Munchi's Ford WRT driver Federico Villagra said:
"Obviously it's a disappointing way to end the rally, I always like to race to the end and get as much experience as possible but Jorge just wasn't feeling well enough to continue. He wasn't feeling so good yesterday afternoon as well and he has done a great job this morning to get as far as we have. It has been a difficult event and we've had a few small problems along the way. We retired yesterday with a transmission problem and after that the focus was to restart today and make a few changes to try and improve our set-up for the next rally.
"We tried a different diff map and the second stage today felt like it was a big improvement; our splits were better and we definitely made real progress, especially on slower corners. So that was a really big positive even during this event where we had to retire. After our great result in Argentina it would have been nice to score some more points for Munchi's but now we just need to look to the next rally and put our improvements from here into practice."