Thierry Neuville leads Hyundai 1-2 finish in Sardinia

Thierry Neuville leads Hyundai 1-2 finish in Sardinia

Thierry Neuville led home teammate Esapekka Lappi in a thrilling Rally Italy Sardinia, earning Hyundai their first World Rally Championship victory of the year.

As the leader of the provisional classification, Thierry Neuville completed the wet Wolf Power Stage of the Rally Italia Sardegna to earn his first victory of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship and that of the Hyundai Mobis Shell World Rally Team.

Neuville won the tough gravel race on the Mediterranean island for the third time, making this season’s four victories all different drivers. Martijn Wydaeghe, a fellow Belgian, served as Neuville’s co-driver.

Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferme made a 1-2 finish for Hyundai behind Neuville, while Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen, drivers of the Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid and winners of the 50th Wolf Power Stage, finished third for Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT.

Reigning world rally champion Kalle Rovanperä rounded out the podium to extend his championship lead, while Neuville moved up to second place ahead of Ott Tänak. Tänak and Elfyn Evans are further eight and ten points behind Neuville, who is 25 points behind Rovanperä.

Hyundai was able to reduce Toyota’s lead in the manufacturers’ title thanks to their 1-2 result. However, Neuville wasn’t always the fastest i20 N Rally1 driver. Lappi, on the other hand, took over after Thursday’s superspecial and traded the lead with Sébastien Ogier of Toyota throughout Friday.

After a fierce struggle, Ogier narrowly edged out Lappi for the lead by 0.4 seconds after the very next stage, but Ogier then made a run for it on the grueling 30-mile Monte Lerno stage. However, Lappi battled back throughout the afternoon to take a slim lead going into the rally’s second full day.

Saturday would be crucial because the anticipated rain drastically changed the standards. Evans encountered issues both in the morning and the afternoon but managed to avoid retirement, unlike Takamoto Katsuta and Tänak who both quit as a result of failures involving water crossings.

Ogier, the rally’s overall winner, was also vulnerable given that he had managed to overtake Lappi in the morning, he had a rough afternoon. First, he briefly lost power while navigating the same water crossing that had caught out Katsuta in the morning. Then, just before the start of the day’s penultimate stage, he noticed a soft tire.

In an effort to get to the stage on time, he hurried to get into the car, but that set off a series of mishaps that resulted in Ogier swerving off the road as his muddy foot slid on the brake.

Lappi quickly backed off after passing struggling Ogier in the perilous conditions, but Neuville was pushing hard in front of him.

Neuville outran Lappi by over a minute on the stage and quickly built up a lead of 23.8 seconds. Considering Hyundai had already decided on their season-long strategy, Lappi made no attempt to catch up and Neuville went on to win by a margin of 33.0 seconds.

Lappi’s disappointment at having to give in to his teammate was hard to mask, but he did set a new personal best for the WRC by finishing second for the third consecutive race.

Rovanperä had a lowkey weekend in Sardinia following his dominant victory in Portugal three weeks earlier, something that he has admitted he doesn’t personally like.

Although he wasn’t expecting much from round six, third place was much better than he had anticipated, especially in light of the challenges that his title competitors were facing and the fact that he was opening the road on Friday. Rovanperä duly won the powerstage, earning himself enough motivation going to Italy.

Evans made his way back into the points after his huge crash in Portugal with a cautious drive to fourth, concentrating only on staying alive following his several water-related engine issues on Saturday. But after a dramatic incident, he arrived at the end of the powerstage with the rear wing dangling off his Toyota.

Dani Sordo was anticipated to place fifth after going up the ranks following a good performance on Friday. However, the Hyundai driver gave up two stages from the finish line due to an exhaust problem.

With Adrien Fourmaux going off on the powerstage, Andreas Mikkelsen, the unexpected WRC2 winner, moved up to fifth place overall.

Oliver Solberg had taken the early lead in the Rally2 competition, but when his front-left suspension failed on Friday morning, he was forced to withdraw from the race. Nevertheless, he performed exceptionally well to keep his car functioning throughout the rally.

Fourmaux seemed to have benefited from Solberg’s setback as he improved on his strong recent performance to lead by more than 30 seconds entering the powerstage and appeared headed for his first-ever WRC2 victory.

However, Fourmaux’s Ford Fiesta Rally2 went slightly off the road in the extremely wet and treacherous circumstances, hit some rocks, and became stuck quickly, forcing him to retire with damaged suspension.

A startled Mikkelsen won the WRC2 championship for the first time since the Rally Estonia in July thanks to the late drama.

Hyundai’s Teemu Suninen came in second, and Kajetan Kajetanowicz held onto the last podium spot by barely 7.4 seconds over Yohan Rossel.

Leave a Reply