for Rally Italia Sardegna leaderboard after SS5
Hyundai's Thierry Neuville has taken the lead on Friday's opening loop of Rally Italia Sardegna, finishing it with a slender 1.5sec cushion over Jari-Matti Latvala.
Neuville, who was joint sixth quickest on Thursday night in the short 2km Ittiri Arena test, was fifth fastest in the first proper test this morning, before then going second in SS3 – just 0.2secs slower than Sebastien Ogier – and quickest in SS4 and SS5, despite a spin near the end of Castelsardo 1.
“Of course there is a lot of road cleaning, which can be an advantage for us,” Neuville said.
“[But] we can be pleased on how the morning went apart from the spin. I am pleased with my tyre choices and with the driving.”
"I'm happy with the morning but it hasn't been easy,” added Latvala, after going quickest in SS2, fourth in SS3, second in SS4 and SS5. “We were thinking all time about whether or not we had the right tyres. In the end I think it was the perfect choice."
Meanwhile, overnight leader Ogier completed the loop in third, 22.2secs off Volkswagen team-mate Latvala and 23.7secs off Neuville.
The Frenchman was actually quickest in SS3 – despite running first in the order – but then haemorrhaged time in SS4 and SS5.
“We knew it [the tyre strategy] was a bit on the limit but we had to try and do something,” Ogier explained. “We are losing some time, but less than what we would have. I am happy with the loop”.
Behind, Mads Ostberg holds fourth for M-Sport, just 1.8secs off Ogier, and 9.6secs up on VW Motorsport II pilot Andreas Mikkelsen in fifth.
“I'm very pleased with our morning. We made the perfect tyre choice and now that the car is working well we are exactly where we should be. It's fantastic to know that when everything comes together, we are right there in the fight. That's what we all believed from the beginning and now that it's confirmed it's a really good feeling,” Ostberg said.
“This afternoon we just need to continue what we have been doing this morning. I'm sure there will be some road cleaning on the second pass so it certainly won't be easy, but we will fight as always for the best position.”
Dani Sordo is next up in sixth in his 2016-spec Hyundai i20 WRC, 3.6secs adrift of Mikkelsen, followed by Ford privateer Henning Solberg in seventh, WRC2 class leader, Teemu Suinen, in an impressive eighth and then Hayden Paddon and Ott Tanak in ninth and tenth respectively, both suffering spins.
There were no major retirements, although Hyundai fourth driver Kevin Abbring finished the loop well down after breaking a prop-shaft before the first test of the day, leaving him with front-wheel drive only. Eric Camilli also had mechanical issues, reporting that the rear-diff broke near the start of SS3.
“It was a good start to the morning. An even better start than the one we made in Portugal and we felt really good with the car [and were seventh in SS2]. Unfortunately, we ended up with only two-wheel drive and lost a lot of time but the most important thing is that we made it through the stages and are able to continue this afternoon,” Camilli noted.
“Of course it was disappointing as without it we could have been fourth or even third right now! We know that – we know that we are competitive – and that is a very important thing for the future.”
Rally Italia Sardegna now continues this afternoon with repeat-runs through all four of this morning's tests. SS6, the 7.50 km Ardara-Ozieri 2 test, is due to start at 15.15 hours local time [14.15 hours UK time].