There were surprises galore on Italy's WRC round last year, when Sardinia's rocky roads wreaked havoc and a young New Zealander burst into the spotlight.
Here's how it unfolded:
Thursday 11 / Friday 12 June
The event started with two surprises. Firstly, Ford privateer Martin Prokop won Thursday night’s super special stage. Secondly, after Friday's first full day of competition, Hyundai's Hayden Paddon shocked the expected pacesetters to lead the event, becoming the first New Zealander to lead a WRC round outside his home country.
Paddon headed Championship leader Sébastien Ogier's Volkswagen by 8.8sec while Jari-Matti Latvala was 25.8sec behind in third. Paddon’s low start position gave him a morning advantage of roads swept clean of loose gravel and he won three of the four morning stages to build an advantage he defended in the afternoon. Road opener Ogier had the worst of the conditions however a clever tyre strategy kept him on Paddon’s tail. Latvala won three stages but an error in the penultimate test cost more than 20sec.
Elsewhere the rocky conditions took a heavy toll. Andreas Mikkelsen went out with broken suspension. Kris Meeke rolled his DS 3, Robert Kubica crashed his Fiesta RS and Dani Sordo retired from fourth after losing a wheel.
Saturday 13 June
Ogier took the lead following a car-breaking Saturday that ended in heartbreak for Paddon. Ogier completed the WRC’s longest day since 2002 with a 2m13.6s advantage in his Polo R over Paddon, who had his lead wiped out.
The duo were neck and neck through the morning’s 110km of stages. But when the Kiwi spun and stalled on the afternoon’s second stage, the Frenchman took the lead and extended it when Paddon struck a rock in the next test. Paddon dropped 1m45s limping through the 42km Monte Lerno stage to retain second from Mads Østberg by 1m12.0s. “I don’t want to be a drama queen but when it happened it ripped my heart out,” said Paddon.
Østberg won two stages in Citroën’s DS 3 but two slow punctures cost 90sec. He was 31.4sec clear of Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20. Latvala dropped to sixth after stopping to change a wheel and losing more time with broken suspension.
Also in the wars were Ott Tänak, who retired from third with his Fiesta RS stuck in sixth gear and Mikkelsen who ripped a wheel from his Polo R. Dani Sordo stopped with low fuel pressure, Robert Kubica went out with gearbox problems and Martin Prokop exited with low oil pressure.
Sunday 14 June
Ogier claimed maximum points after winning both his fourth WRC event of the season and the final live TV Power Stage. He took a comfortable 3m05.3s victory over Paddon whose consolation was a career-best second position. “Hayden did a great job and deserves his podium,” said Ogier. “I didn’t expect this kind of result here."
Neuville finished 4m22.5s off the lead in third, ensuring two podium places for the Korean manufacturer. Neuville climbed to third after Østberg went off the road in the opening stage and damaged his DS 3’s brakes.
Mads limped through the final three tests, falling behind both Neuville and Elfyn Evans in fifth but holding off Latvala. The Finn threw everything at his attempt to overhaul Østberg, but fell 16.6sec short and settled for sixth.