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WRC Rally Italy

WRC Sardinia: Neuville heads Hyundai 1-2 to boost title hopes

Thierry Neuville ignited his World Rally Championship title bid by taking his and Hyundai’s first victory of the season in a dramatic Rally Sardinia dominated by wet weather.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Neuville and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe enjoyed a relatively comfortable run through Sunday’s four stages to complete a 33 seconds victory from Hyundai team-mate Esapekka Lappi.

World champion and standings leader Kalle Rovanpera completed the podium in third, 1m55.3s in arrears.

The journey to reach the finish was far from easy as unseasonable rain showers produced treacherous conditions at times, adding an extra challenge to the already brutal rough gravel stages that were more reminiscent of Safari Rally Kenya.

Neuville only emerged with the rally lead on Saturday afternoon after a dramatic turn of events that resulted in the Belgian charging from third to the lead.

Up until that point Lappi and Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier had dominated proceedings as the pair waged a titanic scrap, the lead changing hands twice, before Lappi ended Friday with a 0.1s lead, with Neuville third, 18.6s adrift.

Ogier was in command come Saturday lunch-time after opening up an 18.2s lead before drama struck in the afternoon.

The eight-time world champion lost time to Lappi after damaging his GR Yaris’ radiator in a stage 12 water splash, before losing even more time nursing his wounded car through another water splash on the next stage.

The key point of the rally arrived at the start of stage 14 when Ogier made a rare error and veered off the slippery wet road.

Prior to the stage, Ogier and co-driver Vincent Landais were forced to make a rapid 58s wheel change on the muddy road before the startline after noticing a slow puncture.

Ogier explained that his muddy boot slipped off the brake pedal approaching a corner initially and was unable to stop the car from running wide and into a ditch.

Lappi backed off upon hearing the news of Ogier’s accident, Neuville, who won five of the day’s eight stages, was unaware of the incident and pushed hard resulting in the Belgian leapfrogging Lappi into a 36.4s lead by the end of the day.

Keen to ensure a 1-2 finish, the Hyundai duo held station through Sunday to score the Korean marque’s first win since Rally Japan last November.

Rovanpera’s run to third was far from simple after losing significant time opening the roads on Friday which included a lucky escape when he encountered a small herd of cows.

The Finn however rose up the leaderboard after many of his rivals hit trouble before ending the rally with a a stunning Power Stage win on challenging wet conditions.

Toyota ’s Elfyn Evans was among those lucky to finish as the Welshman was among a group of drivers to damage their cars in water splashes on Saturday.

The Croatia winner was able to repair car on the road side to ultimately finish fourth overall after a brush with bushes on stage 19.

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Hyundai’s Dani Sordo appeared on course to recover to fifth after losing three minutes to a slow end over end roll in Friday’s first run through 49.9km Monte Lerno. However, an engine issue before the penultimate stage put him out of the event.

That put M-Sport WRC2 driver Adrien Fourmaux in prime position to finish fifth and take a comfortable maiden WRC2 win before he crashed out in wet conditions on the final stage, which briefly halted the test.

The mistake handed Toksport Skoda’s Andreas Mikkelsen fifth overall and the class win.

Fourmaux’s late demise highlighted a nightmare weekend for M-Sport after retirements from the team’s Rally1 drivers Ott Tanak and Pierre-Louis Loubet both retired.

Tanak’s Ford Puma suffered an electrical shutdown triggered by a water entering the car from a stage nine water splash. The Estonian rejoin the rally on Sunday to claim four bonus points from the Power Stage.

Loubet had run as high as third before a gearbox election issue cost him three minutes. His rally came to end when broken steering resulted in a crash on Friday’s final stage.

Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta retired on Saturday after damage to the front of his GR Yaris caused in a water splash. The Japanese rejoined the rally on Sunday.

Rovanpera now leads the championship standings by 25 points from Neuville ahead of Safari Rally Kenya from 22-25 June.

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