Day one: 65.16 miles; 9 stages Weather: Sunny 15-29 celsius ■ Sebastien Ogier knows full well he’s onto a hiding to nothing here, but he’s determined to lead the rally – so he’s flat chat through Thursday night’s superspecial. A spirited effort in SS3 lands him the lead once more, but after that, he’s a lamb to the slaughter. ■ Jari-matti Latvala and Thierry Neuville move to the front of the field, with their neat, tidy and quick approach aided by starting sixth and eighth respectively. After six changes of the lead in the first nine stages, it’s Neuville who is leading at the end of the opening day. ■ Third-placed Ogier takes satisfaction in beating those closest to him on the road: Andreas Mikkelsen and Mads Ostberg, who run fourth and fifth. The Norwegians are split by just a single second as M-sport World Rally Team driver Ostberg revels in a Ford Fiesta RS WRC which is inspiring more confidence than ever. ■ Last time out in Portugal, Hayden Paddon went from hero to zero, having won the previous round in Argentina. He’s slumped a little further this time around, comprehensively crashing the newest of New Generation i20s Hyundai had built on stage seven. ■ There’s more misery for Hyundai when Kevin Abbring and his British co-driver Sebastian Marshall are slowed by a broken propshaft, which leaves their 2015-spec i20 with drive to the front wheels only. Eric Camilli can relate to that, he spends a similar amount of the morning in twowheel drive after the rear diff on his Fiesta lets go. Continued from page 23
“I am very direct and if he does something which doesn’t please me then I will tell him,” he said. “The Belgian media made a lot of talking about what we had said. They said Thierry and I don’t get along, that’s not true. I am happy for him. He made a good win. And look how things change: two rallies ago, it was all about Hayden, but now it’s two crashes and it’s not so good for him – the picture is always changing.” needed big points on the Italian island last week. That the pair of them were still out front on Saturday night surprised more than a few onlookers. Sordo being one of them.
“It’s a good fight,” said Sordo, “but normally those guys are coming hot up here and then going down here.”
Raising his hand up and down, to indicate Spanish signing for win or bust. “But it’s good,” he said, “good guys.”
Sordo finished one place off the podium in fourth. The bottom step was Ogier’s. Extending his points lead for the sixth event in succession gave the number one Polo driver something smile about. Just.
“The story’s the same,” Ogier said mid-way through Saturday. “All I do is fight with those around me: Andreas [Mikkelsen] and Mads [Ostberg]. I’m beating them, so I’m happy.”
The last line was delivered almost as a challenge, would anybody dare ask him about an overall position? Deep breath and give it a go.
“What?” he said, “fight with the leaders, it’s not possible. How would it be possible?” It wasn’t possible. Ogier did the best he could, which, it’s fair to say, is some way clear of the best the rest could manage. There was an overshoot on the first Sunday stage and a record-breaking run through the powerstage; the world champion became the first man to take the three points after using reverse in the final stage.
Was he distracted? Possibly. But he could be forgiven, his wife Andrea is about to go into labour with their first child and Ogier had made it quite plain that he’d be winding the private jet up the minute anybody mentioned the words ‘broken’ and ‘waters’ in the same sentence.
He finished the rally and made a more leisurely journey to Munich than might have been the case.
What of Ogier’s nearest challengers? Mikkelsen and Ostberg both fell to big rocks on Saturday afternoon. Particularly frustrating for the M-sport driver, who found form with the Ford Fiesta RS WRC and had just set a blistering time through Monte Lerno before one of Sardinia’s heftier boulders broke a driveshaft, which broke the engine.
It was anything but doom and gloom in Cumbria,as Eric Camilli delivered the drive of his life to score his maiden fastest time. He would have been a genuine podium contender had it not been for a broken differential on day one.
For once, there was nothing broken for Neuville. Asked if there had been many moments, the winner thought long and hard – Hyundai’s 50,000 euro (£39,000) fine for running a left-rear window which didn’t conform to homologation papers didn’t count. “I had one big slide on Friday,” he said, “but that was it.” Seriously?
“It’s true, just one slide,” he said. “I tell you, this one was under control.”
Neuville’s always been one of the service park’s more likeable lads, which is why the cheer was so loud when he crossed the line on Sunday afternoon. “His feet,” said Penasse, “are on the earth again.”
Not for long. He and Gilsoul were hurled into the harbour in what’s become a traditional Sardinian celebration. Rarely has seawater tasted so good. ■
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