Jari-Matti Latvala rolled out of the Rally Italia Sardegna lead on Friday afternoon as Thierry Neuville’s WRC title challenge also received a setback when he damaged his car’s radiator after crashing into a ditch.
Stage info: SS6/7
SS6: Tula 2, 22.25km
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. Essentially the same stage as 2018, with some minor changes, and one of the most difficult of the rally.
SS7: Castelsardo 2, 14.72km
After a narrow and technical opening across moorland, Castelsardo switches from gravel to asphalt for 1200 metres midway through. Following a series of dips and compressions, it changes character after a tunnel. A steep climb through hairpin bends on a stony road, which will be hard on tyres and transmission, leads to the final section. It has a compact surface, with bed rock and ruts remaining from last year.
Latvala started the afternoon with a 2.8sec lead over Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Ott Tänak but the Finn rolled his Yaris two-thirds of the way through the Tula speed test.
He and co-driver Miikka Anttila manhandled the car back onto four wheels before limping to the finish with a smashed windscreen and panel damage. They lost almost 8min 30sec.
An exhausted Latvala slumped by the roadside before receiving medical treatment, after which he was given the all clear to continue. The shattered windscreen was removed.
“I used so much power to get the car back on its wheels. There were no people there, nobody would help. I cut the hairpin a little bit and we rolled from there,” he explained.
Neuville’s drama happened less than a kilometre before the finish of Tula. The Belgian lost control of his Hyundai i20 which slid nose first into a ditch. Onboard footage revealed co-drive Nicolas Gilsoul apologising to Neuville as the car went off the road.
“We had a misunderstanding with the pace notes,” said Neuville, who stopped on the following liaison section to plug two holes in his car’s radiator, which was leaking fluid.
“It can happen, it’s part of the game. I don’t blame anyone. We had to fix the car. We can drive and it’s OK but it’s all shaking around and I don’t want to damage it further,” he added.
Teemu Suninen was fastest in his Ford Fiesta by 3.4sec from Dani Sordo, with Ott Tänak a further 0.7sec adrift leaving the leaderboard delicately poised. Sordo and Tänak were tied at the top, with Suninen just 0.8sec behind.
The following Castelsardo test was cancelled following a medical emergency in the stage involving a spectator. Only Tänak, Neuville and Evans started before the test was halted, and remaining competitors were diverted to SS8 using an alternative route. Notional times will be issued later.