Thierry Neuville snatched a pulsating Rally Italia Sardegna victory 12 months ago, edging WRC title rival Sébastien Ogier in the third closest finish in the championship’s 45-year history. Here’s how he did it.
Leg 1: Friday
Ogier led Neuville by 18.9sec after a dramatic opening, played out in uncharacteristically wet weather, which was marked by the retirements of Andreas Mikkelsen, Ott Tänak and Teemu Suninen.
Torrential rain turned conditions in favour of the early starters who distanced their rivals. Ogier was a cautious fifth in his Ford Fiesta after the morning stages, but stormed to the front in the afternoon repeat.
Neuville brought his battle-scarred Hyundai i20 to the end with damage to the front and rear after three separate brushes with the undergrowth.
Jari-Matti Latvala was third in a Toyota Yaris, 37.2sec behind Ogier and ahead of team-mate Esapekka Lappi. Mads Østberg held fifth in a Citroën C3, a handful of seconds ahead of Hayden Paddon.
Mikkelsen dominated the morning to lead but retired when transmission problems left his i20 jammed in reverse gear. Tänak exited third in the final test after a heavy landing over a jump damaged his Yaris’ radiator and Suninen crashed out of fourth in the same stage.
Leg 2: Saturday
The sunshine returned as Ogier and Neuville traded seconds across seven dusty and rocky tests before the former finished with a slender 3.9sec advantage. Neuville claimed three stage victories compared to Ogier’s two.
As temperatures soared, Ogier stalled his engine while Neuville punctured. With just one spare tyre onboard, he had no room for error in the final two stages.
Latvala and Toyota Gazoo team-mate Lappi fought tooth and nail for the final podium place. Latvala ended with a 5.3sec advantage, but his Yaris stopped on the liaison section back to Alghero with an alternator problem and he retired.
Hayden Paddon overhauled Mads Østberg by 2.1sec for fourth, with Craig Breen sixth in another C3.
Leg 3: Sunday
Neuville trailed Ogier by 0.8sec ahead of the final Power Stage. In an electrifying shootout against a stunning picture postcard ocean background, he delivered a daredevil drive to overhaul the Fiesta and claim his third win of the season by 0.7sec, extending his championship lead over Ogier to 27 points.
Lappi eased through the final leg to claim his first podium of the season. Hayden Paddon shrugged off lingering back pain to head Østberg’s Citroen C3, with Breen completing the top six.