for Rally Italia Sardegna leaderboard after SS15
Thierry Neuville distanced Jari-Matti Latvala with a powerful Saturday afternoon charge to carry a healthy lead into Sunday's final leg of Rally Italia Sardegna.
Latvala reduced Neuville's Friday night lead to less than three seconds this morning as handling issues hindered the Hyundai i20 WRC driver. But the Belgian won two of this afternoon's three speed tests to rebuild his lead and end 16.1sec clear.
High temperatures, rocky gravel roads and heavy rain presented a tough challenge in a day which contained more than half the event's distance and Neuville was up to it.
“It's been another fantastic day for Nicolas [Gilsoul – my co-driver] and me. The new generation i20 WRC has been great to drive on the stages this afternoon, and it's great to extend our lead to 16.1s.
“The morning loop did not go as smoothly as yesterday and I didn't feel as comfortable; we couldn't find the same rhythm particularly in the narrower sections. I had to take extra care to avoid making a mistake but the feeling in the afternoon was much better and we could push. It is a pleasure to be involved in this thrilling battle with Jari-Matti, and we have to see what tomorrow brings.
“It will be a tough fight but we're up for it.”
An overnight gearbox change left Latvala more confident with his Volkswagen Polo R's handling. After eating into Neuville's lead he looked certain to move ahead but applauded his rival's drive through the final marathon 44.26km Monte Lerno test.
“Today was a day of ups and downs. In the morning we cut Thierry's lead to three seconds, but I dropped twelve seconds again in the afternoon. We lost too much time, particularly on stage 13,” Latvala said.
“All in all, however, we have to be happy. In these conditions, you have to drive carefully, otherwise a mistake can soon bring your day to a premature end. Thierry risked more than us, and did a great job. We still have a few stages to drive, and we have certainly not given up yet.”
Championship leader Sebastien Ogier was 58.9sec adrift of Latvala in third. As road opener he endured the worst of the conditions, cleaning the dry gravel off the surface to leave better grip for those behind.
Less than four seconds covered Ogier, Mads Ostberg and Andreas Mikkelsen after the morning as the Norwegian duo closed on the struggling Frenchman. However, both Scandinavians retired in the afternoon to leave Ogier over a minute clear of Dani Sordo.
“We are right on course in third place. Going into the weekend I said that a podium finish would be the ideal result for Julien [Ingrassia] and me here on Sardinia. We would obviously have liked to treat our fans to a direct duel with Andreas and Mads on the final day. On the other hand, however, we could – if everything goes to plan – significantly extend our lead in the world championship,” Ogier said.
“The stages were very demanding again today. I am glad that we made it through without any major problems. Only in the afternoon did I not have an optimal feeling in the car – the rear was very twitchy and seemed to dance about. We must look into exactly what might have caused that. All in all, however, it was a good day.”
Mikkelsen was first to go this afternoon, exiting fifth with a broken track control arm on his Polo R after hitting a rock. Then Ostberg parked his Ford Fiesta RS near the finish of the final stage after clipping a rock and breaking the front right suspension.
Sordo survived a sticking throttle to head Ott Tanak by 2min 31.4sec. The Estonian had tyre problems in the high temperatures but showed his pace by winning the day's second test.
Sunday's final leg is the shortest, comprising four stages and 40.26km north of Alghero. The final 6.07km test from Sassari to Argentiera forms the live TV Power Stage with bonus points to the fastest three drivers.
Story: WRC Media Service / Red Bull Content Pool – additional editing by Crash.net