Jari-Matti Latvala has powered into the lead of a dramatic opening day of competition in Rally Italia Sardegna that has seen many of the leading crews hit trouble. The Finn has overcome the conditions to climb from 10th to head the leaderboard going into another long and arduous day tomorrow. Volkswagen team-mate Sébastien Ogier has been equally impressive and despite running first on the road and holding ninth after the first stage, the Frenchman has climbed to second after both he and Latvala were catapulted up the leaderboard when the leading crews hit problems in SS5. Mads Østberg rounds off the top three for Citroën and the trio are split by just over 30 seconds.
Rally Italia Sardegna got underway last night when the crews headed south to Cagliari for a short street stage based in the city. In front of thousands of spectators Mikko Hirvonen set the pace and headed the crews into today’s stages which took in 159.60 competitive kilometres over two identical loops of four stages. The Finn hit the headlines earlier in the day though when, after SS2 and while in third position, his Fiesta RS WRC caught fire on the road section and dramatically burned out, delaying the rally by over an hour.
This morning both Championship leader Ogier and team-mate Latvala were languishing down the leaderboard, the pair suffering with their road positions which benefitted those running further down the field. In SS5, however, the situation turned on its head when disaster struck the Hyundai i20 WRCs of both Thierry Neuville and Juho Hänninen who were holding first and second respectively. Neuville stopped with a mechanical problem and the Finn escaped a dramatic roll, elevating Latvala from sixth to first and Ogier from eighth to sixth. In the same stage Citroën’s Kris Meeke retired with a battery-related problem. This afternoon, the Volkswagen crews won each of the repeated stages to claim a provisional one-two for the team. Østberg has had a steady run to third, dropping one position in the final stage when the wipers failed and he was unable to clean the screen as the sun began to set. With battles raging throughout the leaderboard, Andreas Mikkelsen is just four seconds adrift in fourth and Robert Kubica is a fine fifth. He and Elfyn Evans continue their regular rally battles and Martin Prokop is seventh. The Czech driver has set some impressive times today and ran as high as third overall. WRC returnee Henning Solberg is eighth and the level of problems and retirements sees WRC 2 competitors Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Nasser Al-Attiyah sit within the top 10 in their regional rally cars. Hayden Paddon, in his debut outing with Hyundai Motorsport, is 11th, the New Zealander suffering some gearbox problems but largely running at his own pace as he learns the i20 WRC.
Rally Italia Sardegna – Unofficial Results after Day 1