Italy debrief: part 1

In the first part of our look back at a tough Rally Italia Sardegna, we name our top driver and the biggest surprise of the weekend.

Driver of the Rally
We thought long and hard about this. There were two candidates – first-time winner Ott Tänak and rising star Esapekka Lappi. We opted for the Estonian, who finally climbed the top step of the podium after several near misses.

His speed has never been in doubt and nor has his determination. Twice he was shown the door by M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson, but each time he regrouped, refocused and came back more resolute.

You probably wouldn’t have listed him as a potential winner initially. He wasn’t happy with the balance of his Ford Fiesta on Friday afternoon when it was laden with two spare wheels, and that contributed to a half spin.

Hayden Paddon’s crash coincided with Tänak getting to grips with his car and he took the lead. Nothing is ever straight-forward with Ott though, and a Sunday morning scare when he slithered into bushes raised the M-Sport heart rate, but this time he was not to be denied.

Stage of the Weekend
We said in our live text stage notes that the famous Monte Lerno would ‘likely be one of the key stages’. Coming at the end of a loop containing more than 70km of stages without service, it was a tough challenge for tired tyres and cars.

Saturday’s first pass was brutal. Thierry Neuville’s bid for victory ended when his Hyundai i20’s brakes failed. Sébastien Ogier, Mads Østberg and Andreas Mikkelsen all stopped to change punctures, and have we ever seen such an irate Jari-Matti Latvala, who was trapped in Østberg’s dust?

Surprise of the Rally
If Tänak edged out Lappi (above) as top driver, the Finn had no rivals in this category.

On only his second World Rally Car outing, Lappi finished fourth and won six special stages in his Toyota Yaris. The icing on the cake was maximum bonus points by stopping the clock fastest in the Power Stage. Mightily impressive.

And these weren’t even ‘his’ conditions - rough, narrow and hard on tyres. What can Lappi do when the WRC heads to his more-favoured super-fast roads in Poland and Finland next?

Turning Point of the Rally
Italy success was heading Hayden Paddon’s way. The Kiwi kept his nose clean in favourable road conditions on Friday to earn the best-possible start position on Saturday.

He was driving with a smile on his face, less than 10sec clear of Tänak but seemingly in control.

Early in Saturday afternoon’s second run through Coiluna – Loelle, he was out of control. He hit a bank and the i20 limped to the finish with flames billowing from the rear right. The impact damaged the i20 too heavily to continue and Paddon’s dream was over.

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