The 2018 FIA World Rally Championship title battle heated up in Rally Italia Sardegna with Sebastien Ogier (co-driver Julien Ingrassia) in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta and Thierry Neuville (co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul) in his Hyundai i20 going head-to-head for the victory.
Ogier held a solid 18.9s lead over Neuville at the end of Friday after early leader Andreas Mikkelsen (co-driver Anders Jaeger-Synnevaag) suffered transmission troubles in his Hyundai. The Frenchman kept his lead at the end of Saturday running as well but Neuville brought it down to under four seconds in his chase of a back-to-back win.
Indeed, there was no stopping the Belgian on Sunday as he continued his charge to eventually leapfrog Ogier in the Power Stage to win the rally by a mere 0.7s. Neuville was 0.8s down on Ogier at the end of the penultimate SS19, but a time of 4m52.9s in the Power Stage to Ogier’s 4m54.4s sealed the fate for the Frenchman.
The Belgian won eight stages (SS5, SS8, SS12, SS15, SS16, SS17, SS19, SS20) to Ogier’s four (SS1, SS6, SS11, SS15). This was the Belgian’s third win of the 2018 season – tying with Ogier – but more importantly, Neuville (149) has now extended his championship lead to 27 points from Ogier (122) after seven rallies.
“We gave it everything and it was a great fight. Such a small difference at the end. Thank you to the team,” said Neuville. While Ogier added: “I tried everything I could today. I was always losing a few tenths here and there.
“The last stage was very rough and I made two mistakes which cost me a few tenths. It is still good points for the championship. We lost the battle but we haven’t lost the war. There are still six rounds to go, it isn’t time to panic.
“Thierry was lucky with the rain but there will be another rally where he loses time as the road opener.” Neuville’s win has also helped Hyundai retain the top spot in the manufacturers’ standings with 212 points to M-Sport’s 184.
Behind, Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala (co-driver Miika Anttila) held on third for majority of the rally but an alternator problem during Saturday’s final stage hampered his progress which helped teammate and SS13 winner Esapekka Lappi (co-driver Janne Ferm) to complete the podium.
Prior to the issue, the Finn duo were involved in a tooth and nail fight for the last place on the podium which eventually went to the younger Finn. Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon (co-driver Sebastian Marshall) finished fourth after the Kiwi leapfrogged Citroen’s Mads Ostberg (co-driver Torstein Eriksen) on Saturday.
Ostberg was ahead of Paddon at the end of Friday’s running, but the Hyundai driver put in quicker times to move ahead of the Norwegian in SS12 with Ostberg having to settle for fifth as the leading Citroen driver.
The other Citroen of Craig Breen (co-driver Scott Martin) had a frustrating time overall after he was limited to battling the WRC2 drivers on Friday and Saturday. His difficult run continued on Sunday but he hung on to sixth place ahead of a recovering Latvala.
The Toyota driver was helped by his quick times in the earlier stages which included a SS9 victory as he led teammate Ott Tanak (co-driver Martin Jarveoja) to the line, who also had to recover from his crash on Friday which damaged his radiator.
The Estonian battled Mikkelsen for the lead which included wins in SS4 and SS10, but the crash put him 19th overall from where he recovered to eighth ahead of WRC2 winner Jan Kopecky (co-driver Pavel Dresler) in the Skoda R5.
The Czech driver finished ahead of M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen (co-driver Mikko Markkula) after the Finn also suffered a crash on Friday. He won SS7 after which he crashed his Ford Fiesta in SS9 to drop down to 20th from fourth.
He managed to recover to 10th overall and ninth in the WRC class. He was followed by teammate Elfyn Evans (co-driver Daniel Barritt) who also had to recover from a crash on Friday to finish 14th overall, which included a win in SS18.
Early leader Mikkelsen – who won SS2 and SS3 – was the last among the 11 WRC runners, finishing 19th overall. Meanwhile, the WRC2 podium was completed by Martin Prokop and Skoda’s Ole Christian Veiby (co-driver Stig Rune Skjaermoen) – who were 11th and 12th overall.