SS2/3: Double for Mikkelsen
Andreas Mikkelsen dominated Friday morning’s opening two speed tests at Rally Italia Sardegna to charge to the top of the leaderboard.
Stage info: SS2/3
SS2: Tula 1, 22.12km
Tula has been extended by 6km from previous years and changes in pace mean drivers can make a real difference in here. It starts on medium speed roads before becoming faster, then returning to medium pace near the finish. The surface is sandy in places with grass growing down the middle of some tracks. It’s twisty in parts with big compressions and jumps and passes through a wind farm.
SS3: Castelsardo 1, 14.37km
Castelsardo returns after a year’s absence with changes to both the beginning and end. It’s narrow and technical at the start before switching from gravel at 4.60km for a 1.70km asphalt section. After a series of dips and compressions, the test changes character as a steep uphill climb through hairpin bends on a stony road leads to the finale. It’s a hard and compact surface, which at times becomes rocky.
The Norwegian won the 22.12km Tula and the 14.37km Castelsardo in his Hyundai i20 to open a comfortable 15.5sec lead over team-mate Thierry Neuville. His dominance was emphasised by the fact the next four cars were covered by just 3.3sec.
Heavy rain this morning ensured the tricky gravel roads in Tula were wet and patchy fog added extra difficulty. But Mikkelsen rose to the challenge to stop the clocks 9.1sec faster than fellow countryman Mads Østberg in a Citroën C3.
He was 0.8sec quicker than Teemu Suninen’s Ford Fiesta in the drier Castelsardo, despite being one of only three drivers to opt for six Michelin tyres for the morning’s four stages.
“We had a good run in the first one and tried not to attack too much, because if you go sideways you lose speed. There’s still room for improvement but the car is doing what I want. With six soft tyres at least I don't have to think about punctures,” he said.
The rain was a gift for Neuville, who was first in the start order. The Belgian feared losing time on the slippery loose gravel as he ploughed a cleaner and faster line for those behind, but the wet weather allowed him to post top five times in both tests.
Ott Tänak was just a tenth behind in third in a Toyota Yaris. The Estonian was fourth in Tula and third in Castelsardo, a few set-up tweaks between tests eradicating understeer issues.
Suninen was 3.0sec further back in fourth. The Finn’s Ford Fiesta sported damage to both the front and rear bumpers and he struggled to find a rhythm in the many first and second gear sections.
Østberg was 0.2sec behind and unhappy with his car’s balance. He was 2.9sec ahead of Sébastien Ogier’s Fiesta, the Frenchman candidly admitting: “It looks like we weren’t fast enough.”
Craig Breen lost a handful of seconds in his C3 after overshooting an asphalt junction in Tula while Esapekka Lappi punctured in the same test. With only one spare onboard his Yaris, the Finn faced an ultra-cautious drive through the remaining morning stages.
Elfyn Evans was second fastest midway through Tula before disaster struck. “We couldn’t get it stopped for a right-hander. I put it sideways but touched a bank and damaged the steering arm. We had a spare in the car so we got it replaced,” said the Fiesta driver, who lost 13 minutes.
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