Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier has taken his fourth victory of the season on Rally Italia Sardegna to extend his lead in the 2014 WRC title race.
It was his second victory in a row in Sardinia and stretches VW's run of wins to ten in succession, stretching back to last year's Rally Australia.
Ogier had to run first on the opening day – his privilege for being the championship leader – and as expected that cost him as he had to sweep the roads for those behind, who benefited from a quicker and cleaner line. On the second runs though, that was less of an issue and he proceeded to haul himself back into contention, moving from P6 to P4 in SS6, before gaining third in SS8 and then second in SS9, when he ousted Mads Ostberg. He ended day one, 22.4 seconds off team-mate and chief championship rival, Jari-Matti Latvala.
On Saturday Ogier initially lost out to Latvala in the first test, before gaining 11 seconds in the first run through the long 59.13 km Monte Lermo test, when the Finn slowed due to an engine scare. It later turned out it was nothing more than a faulty sensor.
Ogier went into the afternoon loop 17.7 seconds back, and he kept up the pressure, reducing the margin by another 5.4 seconds in SS12, when Latvala stalled his engine. SS13, however, proved to be the critical one, with Ogier moving ahead when Latvala hit a rock and damaged a wheel. Latvala had to stop and change it, losing over 2 minutes.
It meant Ogier went into the final day with a comfortable lead, and could pace himself to the finish, although he was still third fastest in SS15, SS16 and SS17, the latter the Power Stage, where he took 1 bonus point.
“It is a great, great feeling [to win here],” the Frenchman told WRC Live Radio. “I had to push very hard. It was a difficult opening day. We managed to put pressure on Jari-Matti on Saturday and now we have won.”
“It is a good step for the championship,” added Ogier, who increases his championship lead from 24 points to 33. “We will have to try and carry on like that now though because Jari-Matti is going well.”
Ostberg meanwhile took the runners-up spot, benefitting from Latvala's woes in SS13 on Saturday. The Citroen driver was never a match for the two lead Volkswagen's, but ran 'best of the rest' for much of the event.
“It has been a very good weekend,” said Ostberg. “I am very, very happy. We managed to do everything we wanted to do and it is fantastic to finish with second place on this very difficult event. We have done many good things over the weekend. My thanks to the team.”
Latvala had to settle for third ruing that mistake on Saturday in SS13. It is a blow to his title ambitions, especially after that confident boosting win in Argentina last month.
Behind, Andreas Mikkelsen came home in fourth on his first run with Ola Floene back in the co-drivers' seat. The Volkswagen Motorsport II man ran in P4 pretty much throughout and at the end won the Power Stage – the first time he has done so.
“It was an okay event but not perfect. We made a couple of small mistakes," said Mikkelsen. "It is a great start though for me and Ola. We are working really, really well. It can only get better for us.”
M-Sport's Elfyn Evans completed the top five in his Fiesta RS WRC and was pretty pleased with his fourth top-ten result of the season.
“We are happy with the progress we have made. It is a solid finish. It is important to get the mileage in the first half of the year. I am building the confidence and it is going in the right direction, but there is a long way to go. Overall I am fairly happy with the weekend,” said the Crash.net
Further back, Martin Prokop was sixth in his Jipocar Czech National Team-run Fiesta RS WRC. Prokop made the most of his better road position to run an impressive third on the first loop on Friday. However, he then slipped back and on Saturday afternoon had back problems. He remained in pain today but still took eight points.
“The beginning of the rally was amazing for us,” Prokop stated. “I am very happy with the improvements we have made.”
Henning Solberg followed up his points' finishes in Sweden and Portugal by taking another top-ten and bringing his Fiesta RS WRC home in P7, one place in front of former Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica.
Kubica looked set to take fifth until he took the front-right wheel off in SS12. He re-joined under Rally 2 on Sunday to bring it home in eighth.
“It has been a mixed weekend,” said the Pole, “but 90 per cent has been positive. The most important thing is that I finally have the pleasure from driving a rally car on gravel. Yesterday was my mistake. But that is how it is.”
WRC2 runner Lorenzo Bertelli and Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT third driver Khalid Al Qassimi rounded out the top ten.
Bertelli took the WRC2 class victory by over 2 minutes. Sebastien Chardonnet was second in the category on his WRC2 debut with the new Citroen DS3 R5, while Bernardo Sousa completed the podium.
Sousa, however, was later handed a 5 minute penalty and dropped to fifth for using 26 tyres during the event - two more than is allowed. Yuriy Protasov and Karl Kruuda were thus elevated to third and fourth.
Of the rest, Hayden Paddon was 12th on his first event with the Hyundai team. He had been on course for points until he had to stop in the final test on Saturday when his car developed a misfire after going through a water splash. He finished under Rally 2, as did his team-mate, Thierry Neuville. Neuville headed a Hyundai 1-2 on Friday, until SS5 when suspension issues cost him over 20 minutes. The Belgian finished down in 16th. Juho Hanninen also ran strongly for Hyundai until Loelle 1, when the Finn rolled his i20 WRC 5 kilometres from the end. He was unable to re-start. Finally, Kris Meeke was classified in 18th. He had been running in the top-ten until an electrical issue stopped him on day one, also in SS5.
In terms of retirements, in addition to Hanninen, Mikko Hirvonen also went out, retiring on the road section between SS3 and SS4 on Friday when his M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC car caught fire.
The 2014 FIA World Rally Championship now continues with Rally Poland later this month, with that event running from June 26-29. Poland was last part of the WRC in 2009.
To view the result for Rally Italia Sardegna 2014 - CLICK HERE