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A Hat-trick for the French duo of Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia in the Rally Sardinia 2015. The reigning World champion claimed his third consecutive Rally Sardinia victory, recording the fastest times in 7 of 23 stages in his VW Polo WRC, whilst the biggest surprise of the weekend was the podium of the young kiwi driver Hayden Paddon in his WRC Hyundai i20.

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Round 6 of the FIA WRC took the teams and spectators to the beautiful Mediterranean island of Sardinia, located west from mainland Italy. The ultimate mixture of picturesque landscape, technical gravel roads and breath-taking jumps make this one of the best rallies in the world, praised by drivers and spectators alike. The island might look like paradise but it has some of the toughest and most challenging roads from hell.

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The Rally consisted of three Legs spread over four days; the crews had to tackle 400 kilometres on 23 rough gravel stages spread across the northern parts of the island, with the spectator super special stage held in the southern town of Cagliari. In addition to the classic stages, crews also had to tackle some newly added stages presenting new challenges.

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Sixty-one crews and teams applied for the WRC event that took place over June 11-14. More than 100k fans and 370 journalists attended the event that was broadcasted over 190 TV stations worldwide.

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Following Jari-Matti Latvala’s victory in Portugal there was a dark cloud surrounding the championship leader Sebastien Ogier. The remark made by the Frenchman: “This weekend it is not the best one winning” backfired, offending the fellow drivers who also face the same rules as Ogier. Abu Dhabi Citroen World Rally Team driver Kris Meeke expressed his feelings by responding: “Completely disrespectful, if somebody beats you, you take the hat off”. Despite this all drivers seemed happy to arrive in Sardinia and were ready to battle it out on the stages. Still unsatisfied with the current rules Sebastien was set to clean the roads for others for a minimum of two days.

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For the second year the Rally HQ and Service Park was based in the capital of Sardinia, Alghero. The ancient port city was buzzing 24/7 with rally fans, drivers and team members enjoying the rally circus. The amazing rally atmosphere was overwhelming – cocktails, sun, beach and drivers enjoying some sideways action in the city centre – the whole town is a giant rally party.

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The Shakedown took place on the very dusty and tricky 4.30km long Putifigari stage on Thursday morning just outside Alghero. Drivers had to tackle several jumps, complete narrow technical sections and finish on a very tricky downhill section followed by a blind jump. Following a very early start and lots of coffee we left the hotel to arrive at the stage with the first morning light just creeping through the sky.

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Following the shakedown the crews made their way to the bottom of the island where 40,000 spectators gathered round to spectate Stage 1 – 2.5km Cagliari Stage. It was surprisingly won by the privateer Prokop, it seems the choice of the 2 soft tires helped him with an early lead.  

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Friday morning started yet again with another very early wake-up call and breakfast, before we set off for SS2. The day ahead looked very grim as the thunderstorms and heavy rain that shook the island throughout the night hadn’t stopped and accompanied us all the way to the stage; however, once parked alongside the stage, in a blink of a moment the storm was gone. The rain had affected the roads during the night making it extra tricky for the crews on the new stage.

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The 26.31 km long Grighine Sud SS2 ran high on the mountains passing the wind turbines; the new stage proved tricky for many. The rally was sadly over on the very first stage for our favourite duo of Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle. The Northern Irish driver overshot a corner losing the rear, resulting in a spectacular multiple roll crash.

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There was no surprise that the times of Sebastien Ogier were off the pace due to the road position – the Frenchman was sweeping the roads for others and was clearly not happy about that. 

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The surprise came when the fastest times were set by the young Kiwi driver Hayden Paddon who seemed to enjoy his return to Sardinia. The young driver debuted the WRC Hyundai i20 here last year.

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Stages 3 and 4 on Leg 1 proved to be the trickiest of them all with multiple casualties. In a tight left hander in the downhill section Robert Kubica lost the car under breaking and hit a wall damaging the rear left suspension. A rear damper damage for the Mikkelsen’s Polo after an impact on a fast left corner cost the crew 12 seconds over the 18km stage. Roadside repairs after the stage meant the crew were able to return to the service. Mads Ostberg also made a mistake damaging the rear left wheel. Thierry Neuville overshot a corner but got away without further damage. It was the flying Paddon that was at the top of the leader board before the midday service.

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Following the midday service the crews returned for the second loop of the stages. SS7 – Sinis Mont’e Prama 14,08km provided some breathtaking backdrops of the Mediterranean sea and beach. Drivers were able to go flat out on the straight running beside the beach, reaching speeds in excess of 140km/h,

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On Friday’s closing stages Jari-Matti Latvala made a mistake and suffered a damaged wheel as a result, letting Ogier to pass him on the leaderboard. Sordo chased Ogier for 3rd, but he he might have pushed it too hard and damaged the rear of the car losing a wheel and his chances of a good result. At the end of the day the Huyndai found itself at the top of the leader board – Hayden Paddon followed by the VW hardcores – Ogier (+8.8) and Latvala in third (+25.8).

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There were 9 stages to tackle on Day 3 making it the longest Leg in the calendar; however, due to a very complex stage layout it was hard for the spectators to follow the stages. The heat and distances between the stages combined with the closed off roads due to the amount of spectators resulted in us just getting to two stages on the day.

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With four crews starting under the Super Rally rules on Leg 2 it was time for Sebastien Ogier to attack. 5th place on the road was good enough for Seb giving him a cleaner race line allowing to reel in the Kiwi with each stage. Latvala later admitted using pacenotes from 2013 that were too fast and it was therefore hard to fight back for extra seconds as the Polo spent too much time sideways.

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Stage 13, Loelle, is one of the most spectacular stages on the calendar, taking the crews high up on the mountains, featuring the second most famous jump on Rally Sardinia – Reno’s jump.

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The stage hadn’t been repaired since last year so the rocky and rough surface damaged many cars on both runs. It was Mikkelsen that suffered yet another smashed suspension, whilst the tire of Latvala’s Polo disintegrated after a landing dropping him to 5th place. The Czech privateer Martin Prokop suffered a double puncture so his chances of a good finish were over. Mads Ostberg had finally found pace and set the fastest stage time; however, a slow puncture on the following Mont’e Lerno stage halted his chances for a podium. Following the morning loop Hayden reported some understeer on his i20 which combined with the bad pacenotes let Sebastien get in a striking distance of the Kiwi. Similar to the old Safari Rally in Africa it seemed Rally Sardinia had become a rally of survival.

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The day went from bad to worse. Disasters followed Latvala throughout the day; on SS17 another rock and another damaged damper. The young Estonian Tanak was showing spectacular results until the WRC Fiesta got stuck in 6th gear in the afternoon. A nightmare afternoon for Paddon – a spin in SS17 and a gearbox issue in SS18 meant the young drivers hope for the first win was over. It was heartbreaking to watch the Kiwi. “What’s wrong Hayden?”, “It’s Broken,” said Hayden after the stage 18 interview.

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Exhausted but happy we attacked the final day with positive emotions. With only 46 competitive kilometres left across the four special stages on the last day we settled at the 11.77km long Cala Flumini stage that also co-acted as the Powerstage in the second time through.

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The fight for the final podium place on the day was between the Belgian Thierry and Norwegian Mads. Even though Thierry admitted he didn’t believe he had a chance to catch him, a mistake by Mads and broken brakes meant the 3rd place was handed over to Thierry without a real fight. The powerstage ended with a flying finish with the three VWs dominating the stage – Ogier, Jari-Matti and Mikkelsen obtaining the extra points up for grabs.
 
Final Results:
1) Sebastien Ogier
2) Hayden Paddon
3) Thierry Neuville

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The supporting series – WRC 2 battle went on to the last stage where the Ukranian Yuri Protasov was being chased by the 8th time national championship Winner Andreucci in his Peugot; however, a damaged radiator meant the Italian lost in the duel and victory went to the Ukrainian crew. However after the rally the Peugeot of Andreucci was subjected by ratifications of the stewards on a possible technical infringement. Kopecky secured the third in his Skodia Fabia R5.
 
WRC 2 Results
1) Protasov
2) Andreucci
3) Kopecky
 
Arrivederci e grazie Sardegna, See you next year!
 
Words & Photos: Reinis Babrovskis
 

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