EVENT | Rally Sardegna

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Jumping in the dust…quite literally – Rally D’Italia Sardegna offers drivers truly mind blowing jumps that are taken blind through the huge clouds of dust over the crests on narrow, mountainous roads. If that’s not enough, challenges include immense heat, sharp rocks, hidden dips and high stone walls. Along with the best wine and food on the planet, beautiful beaches and weather, this makes it one of the greatest rallies in the World Rally Championship calendar.

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Once a year this quiet, relaxing Mediterranean island is taken over by tens of thousands motorsport enthusiasts from all over the world. The Sardinian Rally maintained the usual 4 day format; however, it was moved to the beginning of June with changes to the stage layout. Rally HQ and Service Park was now switched to the beautiful, old sea side town of Alghero in the North West coast of Sardinia with the shakedown stages held nearby. Leg 1 Super Special stage was held in the southern city Cagliari, while Leg 2 and 3 were held high up in the North East mountainous areas. Leg 3 returned to the surrounding areas of Sassari and Alghero. Unsurprisingly this format change was criticized by many, including the drivers as for many teams and spectators the road section was far too distant from each other.

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Rally organizers as always had done an amazing job and their website had all the information that was required for both the spectators and drivers. The HQ was located right beside a beach, as was the Service Park. All works teams were here to impress as usual and Huyndai were certainly on top of their game with their impressive service barges.

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Leg 1 started at first sunlight on Thursday, with two shakedown stages taking place just a couple of miles out from Alghero. Despite the early start the 4.30 km Putifigari stage was filled with enthusiastic and cheering fans.

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The high heat and non-existent wind meant the dust caused problems for some of the drivers. After remarks made by some F1 drivers and other sceptics, Kubica was clearly on a mission to prove the Pole is a worthy WRC competitor and he was pushing the limits from the moment the light turned green, nearly losing it after one of the downhill slippery sections with a small jump and instant right hander thereafter.

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Volkswagen’s Ogier was a tenth behind the Pole, followed by teammate Jari-Matti Latvala. The same place turned out to be a very hairy moment for the Norwegian, Henning Solberg, who returned to complete the rally in a WRC Ford Fiesta; he set the fourth fastest time with Mikkelsen and Meeke rounding up the top 6.

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Mikkelsen did have to stop in the stage for a minute in the first run with electric issues, but managed to keep going. After an incident involving a Mitsubishi Evo X driven by a local driver and a spectator the Shakedown stage was cancelled. Upon the completion of both shakedown stages the drivers returned to the service to give the cars a good clean, service and load them onto the lorries sending them away to the distant stage of Cagliari to be completed later that night.

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More than 15 thousand spectators gathered in the docks to witness the official launch of the rally and see the head to head battles between the world’s greatest drivers on the opening SS1. The M-Sport Mikko Hirvonen started off the event in a very confident manner beating his fellow country man Jari-Matti by 1.7 seconds after he went wide on the last corner. Kris Meeke battled Ogier and after a spectacular jump the DS3’s radiator was cracked, but luckily it was a simple and easy fix and the crew could continue the rally.

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Friday morning stages turned out to be a great success for the newcomer Hyundai team as Thierry Neuville and Juho Hanninen benefitted from their lower starting position. Ogier admitted that he was struggling to find any grip and was scared of losing a lot of time on day 1.

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Jari-Matti experienced some brake issues and dropped away from the leaders with a 15.2 second gap; however, after some roadside repairs was able to continue. Both of the Huyndai front runners continued to use the advantage and it was now Juho Hanninen’s turn to impress as he took the lead of the rally from Neuville by 0.4 seconds on the Terranova Sud stage.

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The morning turned out to be a very expensive one for the M-Sport team; on the way to stage 4 after stopping for a tyre change, the duo of Mikko and Jarmo noticed some flames at the back of the Fiesta WRC. The crew attacked them with multiple fire extinguishers yet they were powerless and had no option to stand back and watch a £430,000 car burn into the ground.

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Stage 4 saw the leaders changing hands again with Neuville beating Hanninen again. The morning kept providing nasty surprises and for the Kris Meeke, it came in the shape of a battery warning light, indicating his chances of battling for the rally lead would be soon over.

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Rally Sardinia kept claiming victims – the dream morning for Hyundai soon turned into a nightmare in stage 5. The rally leader, Neuville damaged the suspension and spent more than 20 minutes fixing it, thus losing any hope to fight, while team mate Hanninen, due to a pace note error, experienced a violent crash with multiple rolls in his WRC i20. Rally lead was now in the hands of Jari-Matti Latvala.

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With the second loop of the stages the grip level had improved and the French man Ogier was back in the fight claiming the second place from the Norwegian Mads Ostberg on the last stage of the day. In the interview Mads explained his DS3 experienced faulty windscreen wipers losing a lot of time which opened the doors to opportunity for the third VW team driver Mikkelsen as he closed the gap.

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Saturday morning opening stage was the notorious and exhausting stage of Monte Lerno 1 which is the longest stage in the WRC Calendar, measuring 59.13km and featuring the famous Micky’s Jump.

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Latvala started the morning with a fighting spirit extending his lead from his teammate Sebastien Ogier, but shortly was hit with an engine overheating issue and had to back off to prevent the engine from failing. He maintained the lead, but the gap was now reduced to 17.7 seconds.

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Kris Meeke competing in Rally 2 pushed it hard trying to climb up the leaderboard, probably too hard and after hitting a rock picking up a damage on the real wheel. Same fate for Kubica, he sadly ripped the front wheel clean off his Fiesta WRC car on the Stage 12 just 1km before the finished line.

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After engineers couldn’t find an issue in Jari’s car they replaced the faulty sensor and he was back in the fight, he did experience a random engine stall in mid stage and lost further time. His afternoon went from bad to worse and after making a small mistake, he damaged the wheel and lost 1.58m changing the wheel. The new rally leader was now Ogier with Ostberg in second and Jari-Matti third.

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After all the issues it seemed the Finn has lost confidence and he couldn’t match the pace of second place on Sunday’s opening stage, and even though he did narrow the gap in the Sunday’s last three stages it was not enough to steal second place.

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After preserving tyres on the stages the Power stage victory was taken by Mikkelsen, followed by Jari-Matti and Ogier.
 
Words & Photos: Reinis Babrovskis
 

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