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Neuville Finishes Third in WRC Rally Italia Sardegna

2021-06-18

Rally Italia Sardegna, the fifth round of the 2021 WRC, has caused a lot of accidents, highlighting its notoriously narrow and rough roads. However, Thierry Neuville of Hyundai Motorsports finished third, getting himself to the podium.

Last year, the WRC Rally Italy had been postponed to October due to the COVID-19; but this year, the 5th round was held from June 3-6, back to the way it has been. Monte Acuto – the northern part of Sardinia – tests the limits of drivers with rough roads and scorching sun. Rally Italy boasts a long history from 1928, and it was held in Sanremo before moving to Sardinia in 2004. Its official name is called Rally Italia Sardegna.

Round 5 takes place in Sardinia, in the beautiful Western Mediterranean. Photo: WRC (https://www.wrc.com)

Sardinia is the largest island in the Western Mediterranean and is 13 times larger than Jeju Island in South Korea. It is also adjacent to Corsica, where the French Rally used to take place. Corsica is a Tarmac Rally, while in Sardinia drivers have to deal with dirt roads in the mountains. What’s notable this year is that the location of the Rally Base – where the service park is installed – has changed. The base has been in Alghero, the northeast of the island for seven years, then returned to Olbia in the west.

Rally Italy takes place on a narrow mountain road, so even a single mistake can lead to retirement. Image: Neuville’s tire is being punctured on the SS7. Fortunately, Neuville finished the round third. Photo: WRC (https://www.wrc.com)

Sardinia’s mountain roads are unsuited to high speeds’ as they are often narrow, allowing no mistake. The edge of the road is lined with bushes, trees, and rocks, which cause great damage if you get off the road. The road surface is basically hard and covered with dirt and gravel. The new Pirelli gravel tire, which was first used in Portugal, was developed and tested here in Sardinia.

Dani Sordo, who has been performing quite well recently, drove Hyundai’s third rally car this time.

The Hyundai team, which suffered losses from a double retirement in Portugal, needs a win in Sardinia to defend the manufacturer’s title. So Hyundai picked the best players they had: Thierry Neuville, Ott Tanak, and Dani Sordo. Neuville is the winner of Sardinia in 2016 and 2018, and Sordo has won two titles in 2019 and 2020, as well as currently marking 7th place in the standings, gaining an advantage with road position. Tanak also had won in Sardinia when he was in the Ford team in 2017. He also expressed his enthusiasm, saying that it’s getting better every time he is in his rally car, despite his retirement from the 4th round in Portugal.

The virus has made the future of the C2 Competition team uncertain.

The Hyundai Semi-Factory Team C2 Competition at first intended to put Pierre-Louis Loubet and Oliver Solberg. However, Oliver’s father, Petter Solberg, tested positive for the coronavirus, and Oliver, who came in contact with his father, was also quarantined in Portugal. Ole-Christian Veiby, a member of the Hyundai WRC2 class, was given a six-month suspension for failing to report contact with a confirmed case and not complying with quarantine obligations.

The Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team wants to lead the way after recording a double podium in Portugal. But recently, Rally Italy is mostly dominated by Hyundai teams. Moreover, Ogier and Evans have the most points in the Drivers’ Championship, so they should be the first to start on the first day; running first on the gravel road is never a good thing because you have to clear the dirt and gravel from the road.

M Sport Ford’s Gus Greensmith temporarily hired Stuart Loudon as his co-driver Chris Patterson was absent, while Teemu Suninen drives the other car. Suninen’s influence has been weakened by the rookie Adrien Fourmaux’s remarkable performance, so he has to prove himself this time. Fourmaux participated in this race in the WRC2 class.

Hyundai team drivers performed quite well during the shakedown, raising expectations for this rally.

Neuville was the fastest in a shakedown test conducted on Thursday at the 2.89km course near Olbia. Tanak was second and Sordo was fifth. Toyota team’s Kalle Rovanpera was found to have a steering problem and was serviced, but was able to finish the test drive safely. In the evening, there was a Ceremonial Start to announce the start of the match in Alghero.

Ott Tanak took the lead of the rally from the beginning, while Rovanpera was disappointed to end SS4 in retirement. Photo: WRC (https://www.wrc.com)

The players moved east early on Friday morning to start the round. It is a 127.4km round that repeats two stages in the morning, visits Service Park, and then repeats another two stages north again in the afternoon. Rally Italy had a long stage of over 40km five years ago, but recently it has been adjusted to a maximum of 20km. The opening stage SS1 Filigosu – Sa Conchedda is 22.29km-long, the longest of the race. Tanak cut off a pleasant start with 13 min 8′ 3”, marking the best time at SS1. Tanak proved that he didn’t just get lucky back in Portugal, dominating four stages in a row in the morning. Rovanpera fell behind after retiring from SS4.

During the rally, numerous players retired from the courses. Photo: WRC (https://www.wrc.com)

Tanak still took the lead until SS5, even after visiting Service Park. Aiming for the championship title for the third consecutive year, Sordo was overtaken by Ogier in SS5 for a moment, but earned second place with three best times in SS6?SS8; The time difference with Tanak was 19.4 seconds. Ogier is 16.8 seconds behind Sordo, and Evans climbs to fourth overall. Neuville, who seemed to be recovering pace in the afternoon with a setting change, was pushed to fifth place after a tire puncture at SS7 – the time difference between him and Evans is 1.2 seconds. Meanwhile, the M Sport Ford team suffered on day one; Suninen retired from the first stage, and even Greensmith, who was in 7th, retired from the race at SS8.

The Mickey’s Jump Course is by far the highlight of Rally Sardinia.

On Saturday, June 5, the race was held across the South and North. The fans are pretty much familiar with these 129.62km-long stages held on Saturday. Lerno – Monti Di Ala (22.08 km) for SS10 and SS12 in the morning draws large crowds for its iconic Micky’s Jump. On Saturday, too, the drivers went through four stages, two each in the morning and the afternoon. The 14.7km-long SS13 (also SS15) were made from the old Bortigiadas stage, which had not been used for a long time since 2005.

Unfortunately, two of Hyundai’s drivers retired from the race. Photo: WRC (https://www.wrc.com)

After the opening stage, Tanak maintained the lead at 2nd place in SS10 and 3rd place in SS11. But he damaged his suspension – hence his car – after clouting a rock on the road, forcing him out of the race. He had to park his car 8.9km into the stage; then Ogier took the lead, and Sordo came in second. Neuville tried to be a game-changer, 8.5 seconds behind Evans – but the Hyundai team wasn’t lucky enough. After the Sordo hit the right corner at SS15, the car rolled over and the rear right wheel has been ripped off his car. The Hyundai Team’s two winners have retired. Ogier, who conquered 5 stages on Saturday while managing the tires, took the lead, and Evans won 2nd place. Neuville, the last remaining driver on the Hyundai Team, continued the race 22.7 seconds behind Evans.

On the third day of the rally, the top-ranked drivers entered the final race, aiming at the podium.

On Sunday, June 6th, the final showdown took place on four stages, 46.08km-long, at the northern tip of the island. The 15.25 km Arzachena-Braniatogghiu stage was slightly modified in 2009. The 7.79 km Aglientu-Santa Teresa (SS18 / SS20), which starts and finishes at the coastline, is a completely new course where drivers can enjoy the beautiful scenery of Sardinia. After this course – which is also a power stage – it is a tradition that the winner jumps into the ocean water.

Elfin Evans’ car suddenly turned off while driving the SS20, but he started it right away and avoided the retirement. Photo: WRC (https://www.wrc.com)

Evans was the fastest in the opening stage SS17 (also SS19). But Ogier had plenty of room until Sunday, nearly 39 seconds ahead of Evans. Eventually, Ogier conquered Rally Italia Sardegna, and Evans finished second. Neuville finished 3rd on the podium and took an extra 5 points for taking 1st place on the SS20 Power Stage.

Thierry Neuville secured the victory for Hyundai.

Ogier, on his third win of the season, took the lead in the championship with 106 points. Evans currently has 95 points, and Neuville scored 77 points with an additional 5 points in third place (15 points), narrowing the gap with Evans to 18 points. After adding four points on the power stage, Tanak finished fourth in the Championship. 4th place Katsuta (Takamoto Katsuta) moved up to 5th place in the Championship, beating out Rovanpera.

The 6th round of WRC will be held July 24-27 in Kenya, Africa. The historic Safari Rally began in 1953 and joined the WRC in 1973, and will be held for the first time since 2002. It was originally scheduled to be held last year, but has been postponed for a year due to the pandemic. There will be no 60km-long stage like the way it used to be, but the rally is expected to be diabolic just with the rough road surface and the scorching sun.

By Sujin Lee, automobile critic
Excited about the 1991 establishment of the first domestic auto mania magazine 〈Car Vision〉, I sent a series of long letters there that led to an unexpected hire. 27 years have passed since then, the years of plowing through the writing struggles of an auto journalist. After becoming an editor for 〈Car Vision〉, I came to my current position as the Editor-in-Chief for 〈Car Life〉. My recent interests include cutting-edge techs like electric cars, connected cars, and autonomous driving, but the ‘otaku’ in me doesn’t want internal combustion engines to disappear either.