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WRC - Neuville reignites title quest with Rally Italia Sardegna victory


2023 Rally Italia Sardegna - Sunday evening

Belgian star Thierry Neuville vaulted from fifth to second in the provisional FIA World Rally Championship standings after clinching a long-awaited victory on Rally Italia Sardegna at the wheel of a Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid.

Co-driven by compatriot Martijn Wydaeghe, Neuville headed Esapekka Lappi by 33.0s in a Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team one-two to become the fourth winner in six rounds and triumph for the 18th time in his career.

The result, the first victory for Neuville, Wydaeghe and Hyundai since Rally Japan last November, helped Neuville close to within 25 points of defending champion and provisional title leader Kalle Rovanperä, while Hyundai is now 23 points behind Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT in the provisional Manufacturers’ championship standings.

During the fast and furious Mediterranean island fixture, the lead changed hands a whopping nine times before Neuville seized the initiative when Sébastien Ogier went off the road on Saturday’s rain-hit penultimate test aboard his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid.

He overtook Lappi, who celebrated his third-consecutive top-three finish, in the same stage and managed a comfortable margin through Sunday’s four-stage final leg.

“Obviously it was a challenging weekend,” said Neuville, who is now a three-time winner in Sardinia. “We came here with the belief that we could fight for victory but the first day was challenging and we lost a bit of time. Yesterday we found ourselves in the lead and we had to manage it until the end. It’s the first victory for the team this year, it's a 1-2, and the first win for our team principal [Cyril Abiteboul] as well. Craig Breen is in our memories also – we wanted the win in Croatia for him, but we got it now.”

Rovanperä completed the podium in third overall, his best result out of five Rally Italia Sardegna attempts.

Although he trailed fellow Finn Lappi by 1m22.3s at the finish, the high rate of attrition meant he ended up a sizeable 3m25.2s clear of fourth-placed Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans.

Evans struggled to get into a rhythm in his GR Yaris and dropped around three minutes on Saturday when his car’s radiator sustained damage in a water crossing.

Dani Sordo almost made it three Hyundais in the top five but retired after the today’s second stage due to exhaust failure. It brought an early end to what been a turbulent weekend for the Spaniard, having previously rolled his i20 N on Friday morning.

His exit paved the way for Toksport Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 driver Andreas Mikkelsen to claim fifth overall as well as taking a surprise victory in FIA WRC2. He had trailed Adrien Fourmaux by more than half a minute before the rain-hit Wolf Power Stage but the Frenchman slid off the road 1.4 kilometres after the start and was forced out with damage to the right-rear corner of his M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally2.

Teemu Suninen completed the top six for Hyundai Motorsport N with FIA WRC2 Challenger winner Kajetan Kajetanowicz coming home one place behind. PH Sport’s Yohan Rossel finished eighth in his Citroën C3 Rally2 with Miko Marczyk and Erik Cais completing the top 10.

Roope Korhonen made it three FIA WRC3 wins out of three starts, while William Creighton won for the second time this season in FIA Junior WRC. Johannes Keferböck was the comfortable FIA WRC Masters Cup winner.

The 2023 WRC season continues with the legendary Safari Rally Kenya in Naivasha from June 22-25.