SS6/7: Ogier grabs Italy lead
Sébastien Ogier stormed into the lead of Rally Italia Sardegna after a dramatic opening to Friday afternoon’s action which turned the leaderboard on its head.
Stage info: SS6/7
SS6: Tula 2, 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.
SS7: Castelsardo 2, 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.
Further torrential rain just before the second pass of the 22.12km Tula test made conditions even more treacherous than this morning. The five-time world champion took charge with a stunning time more than 12sec quicker than anyone else.
He soared from fifth to first but even he found the muddy roads tough to master. “I did no mistakes but it wasn’t possible to push. It was super tricky,” admitted the Ford Fiesta pilot.
His joy contrasted with the disappointment of Andreas Mikkelsen. Starting the stage with a 14.0sec advantage, the Norwegian firstly overshot a junction and then completed the stage having reportedly lost second gear in his Hyundai i20.
A half spin towards the end of Castelsardo brought the car to a halt and he retired after being unable to restart.
Tula became increasingly slippery with the passage of every car and the time gaps were big. Thierry Neuville lost vital seconds after spinning his i20 but third fastest through Castelsardo, which ironically was dry and dusty in places, kept him second, 10.9sec behind Ogier.
Ott Tänak made changes to his differential at service in a bid to make his Toyota Yaris turn into corners better. The Estonian was third, a further 4.1sec back and still frustrated at being unable to match the pace of those ahead.
Teemu Suninen lost time in Tula to drop from fourth to seventh, but regained position in Castelsardo ourtesy of fastest time in his Fiesta. The Finn was 17.1sec behind Tänak.
Close behind was Jari-Matti Latvala’s Yaris, with team-mate Esapekka Lappi climbing from 10th at lunchtime to sixth, just 1.6sec behind his fellow Finn.
Eighth-placed Hayden Paddon stalled at a junction and slid down an escape road, while Craig Breen dropped time after his Citroën C3 stalled when he pulled the handbrake in Tula.
SS4/5: Dominant Mikkelsen on top
Norwegian leads team-mate Neuville in Italy
SS2/3: Double for Mikkelsen
Norwegian wins Friday’s opening two stages
SS1: Ogier leads in Italy
Mikkelsen and Neuville fill top three