Friday | 10 Jun 2016

SS7: Battle rages between Neuville and Latvala

The pendulum swung back and forth again as the enthralling fight for the lead between Thierry Neuville and Jari-Matti Latvala continued unabated through Friday afternoon’s opening two special stages.

Stage info: SS6 / SS7

SS6: Ardara - Ozieri 2, 7.50km
Friday afternoon’s opener is a narrow but fast stage, most of which was driven in the opposite direction last year. It has a messy surface and the gravel is interspersed with patches of concrete and asphalt. There are also several hidden crests and dips which could catch out drivers as they acclimatise to the Italian tracks.

SS7: Tula 2, 15.00km
Tula is a new stage to the rally and many of the roads have been cleared especially for the event. The surface is sandy in places and some roads still have grass growing in the middle. It’s twisty in parts with some big compressions and jumps, and passes through a wind farm before finishing on a single width road through a series of hairpin bends.

Latvala was fastest in the repeat of Ardara - Ozieri in his Volkswagen Polo R to relegate lunchtime leader Neuville to second by nine-tenths of a second. However, Neuville retaliated to win the following Tula and move back in front by 3.5sec in his Hyundai i20.

“I pushed hard in this one,” said Neuville at the finish of Tula. “The car is working well in these conditions. When the ruts are made I can push the car into the corners, but when it’s loose like this morning then it’s more difficult.”

Hayden Paddon was third fastest in SS6 but a disappointing day for the Kiwi ended early when he went off at the final corner of Tula and retired his Hyundai i20.

Fourth and third fastest times kept Sébastien Ogier in touch with the leading duo, although the gap to the front rose to 29.3sec.

Mads Østberg was the only top driver to go into the afternoon with two spare wheels, and the extra weight affected the balance of his Ford Fiesta RS. The Norwegian remained fourth but fellow countryman Andreas Mikkelsen reduced the gap to 5.1sec with top four times in both tests.

Henning Solberg lost places after the throttle in his Fiesta RS stuck open, while Eric Camilli shed a few more seconds after his similar car began to veer to the left and the Frenchman spun at a hairpin. However, he resolved the issue in time for the Tula stage.

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