Saturday | 31 May 2014

Italy countdown: Flashback to 2013

Sebastien Ogier retired from the 2013 Acropolis Rally on the first stage with a fuel pressure problem. And the Frenchman was still reeling from that “bitter” disappointment when the WRC arrived on the Island of Sardinia 19 days later for Rally Italia.

His rivals were expecting a backlash. And that’s exactly what they got.

Ogier was the standout performer in Sardinia, despite the fact he doesn’t rank Rally Italia as one of his favourite events. But the VW Motorsport driver was still enthusiastic enough to race into a 46.6s lead at the end of the opening leg. He added to his advantage on day two and eventually outwitted Thierry Neuville by a healthy margin of 1m 16.8s at the finish.

“We managed the rally perfectly all the time,” Ogier explained. “We pushed when we needed to and were more careful when it was rough and more dangerous for the tyres. In the end it was a perfect win.”

His win on Sardinia’s dusty gravel tracks enabled Ogier to extend his lead at the head of the drivers’ world championship to 64 points. At the halfway point of the season, Ogier was beginning to look unstoppable.

Thierry Neuville scored a career-best result with his second place in Sardinia

Neuville’s second-placed finish was the best result of his career and he owed a lot of his speed to some critical set-up changes that he made to his Ford Fiesta RS WRC on the opening leg.

Stiffening up his car’s suspension and adjusting the brakes transformed the handling of his M-Sport-prepared machine and he leapt from sixth to third at the start of day two. When Mikko Hirvonen’s Citroen DS3 crashed out of second place on the final day, Neuville was on hand to pick up second place and cruise to the finish – despite a last stage drama.

“We met a cow in the stage and had to slow down and turn around,” Neuville said. “I didn’t stress at all. I had the splits to Latvala behind me and saw it was okay.”

Jari-Matti Latvala completed the podium in his VW Polo. The Finn’s rally could have been so much different, though, if he hadn’t picked up a puncture on Friday’s first stage.

He resisted the temptation to stop and change the tyre in the stage but it was probably the wrong decision. The tyre de-laminated soon afterwards and he lost almost two minutes limping through the stage. He dropped back to 12th place.

But the VW driver managed to avoid any further trouble on the remaining stages and his fightback to third place was an impressive feat. He finished 31.2s behind Neuville’s Fiesta.

Dani Sordo was fourth in his Citroen DS3, while Martin Prokop was fifth in his privateer Fiesta. Welshman Elfyn Evans completed the top-six in what was his first-ever outing in a WRC-spec Fiesta.

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