Hyundai Motorsport has taken a dramatic victory in Rally Italia Sardegna, the seventh round of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), as Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul stole a last gasp win with a sublime performance on the final morning.
The Belgian crew started the day with a 3.9-second deficit to leader M-Sport Ford’s Sébastien Ogier, but a perfect Sunday morning with four stage wins, including the Power Stage, allowed them to steadily catch and pass the Frenchman.
They took a memorable result by a mere 0.7-seconds after 313.46km of competitive Sardinian stages. In one of the closest finishes in WRC history, it actually matches the same minuscule gap by which Neuville beat Elfyn Evans in the 2017 edition of Rally Argentina.
The result is Hyundai Motorsport’s third win of the 2018 season and tenth in its WRC history. It marks the team’s second victory in Rally Italia Sardegna following Neuville’s triumph in 2016, and the fourth Sardinia event in succession where it has finished on the podium.
Four stages were contested on Sunday morning with two runs through the 14.06km Cala Flumini and 6.96km coastal Sassari-Argentiera tests. There was no respite for any of the crews with tense battles throughout the field. While Neuville and Ogier battled it out at the front, Hayden Paddon was able to defend his fourth place from Mads Østberg with a solid Sunday, securing his best result of the season so far.
One-time rally leader Andreas Mikkelsen wrestled two consolatory driver points for finishing fourth in the nerve-wracking and competitive Power Stage.
With victory today, Hyundai Motorsport has extended its grip on the manufacturers’ championship with 212 points, an increased gap of 28 points to M-Sport Ford in second. Neuville’s five additional points for Power Stage success saw him take the maximum available for the weekend and increase his lead in the drivers’ classification to 27 points over Ogier.
Since its WRC debut in 2014, Hyundai Motorsport has now taken ten victories and a total of 40 individual podiums. As the 2018 season passes its halfway mark, the team now heads into the summer break with an opportunity to reflect on a hugely successful season-to-date.
Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
- Third win of 2018 season with six consecutive stage wins from SS15 to the SS20 Power stage
- Increases drivers’ championship lead taking maximum 30 points on offer
Neuville said: “I can’t believe it! We knew we had to give it everything we had this morning, and it was a truly fantastic fight with Sébastien. The gap at the end was so small and we left absolutely nothing behind. We kept pushing as hard as we could without doing anything stupid. Battling against Séb is one of the most difficult things to do, so this is a precious victory. Nicolas and I send massive thanks to the whole Hyundai Motorsport team for giving us a great car this weekend. Without them we couldn’t have done this today. Starting first on the road on Friday put us at a disadvantage. The rain helped a bit but we never gave up and we can share in one of the finest wins of our career. Leading both championships heading into the break gives us all the motivation we need for the second half of the season.”
Crew Notes: Paddon/Marshall (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
- Fourth place represents crew’s best result of 2018 season so far
- Highest finish in Sardinia since second place in 2015
Paddon said: “A difficult weekend for us, but a positive end to the rally for the team. We wanted more from this rally, but to take fourth place gives us important confidence for the coming events. Things didn’t really click from the first stages, and we weren’t able to replicate the positive feeling we had from shakedown. Still, it’s nice to finish this event for the first time in three years, and to score important points for the team in the manufacturers’ championship. We will look to build from here, and to try and take a few more risks. Congratulations to Thierry, Nicolas and the whole team for a fantastic victory.”
Crew Notes: Mikkelsen/Jæger (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
- Led rally on Friday morning before transmission trouble
- Two consolation points for fourth place in the Power Stage
Mikkelsen said: “We gave it all we could in the Power Stage to try and salvage something from what has been a frustrating weekend. Since the last rally, we have found a much better feeling from inside the car but we haven’t had the results to match. On Friday morning, we could show the potential we have with some strong times and leading the rally. Unfortunately, the transmission problem ended our rally and we’ve spent the remaining stages just refining things and picking up useful information about the car on these tough gravel stages. It is all valuable learning but we leave Sardinia with a feeling of missed opportunity. We will regroup over the summer break and be ready for Finland. Finally, congratulations to Thierry and Nicolas on an outstanding win this weekend.”
Sardinian success story
- 11 stage wins for Hyundai Motorsport crews in Sardinia
- Third victory of 2018 and tenth in team’s WRC history
Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “I am completely delighted, as are all members of the team, with this incredible victory. It was truly a perfect win for Thierry and Nicolas. The battle with Ogier started on Saturday and the intensity of that only increased. I was on the edge of my seat all Sunday morning, and the Power Stage was a superb piece of entertainment for all fans. To take our third win of the season in such exhilarating style is the ideal way to head into the summer break. We have had a faultless operation all weekend, thanks to the hard work of our team on site and in Alzenau. Hayden and Seb have taken their best result of the season in fourth, while Andreas also picked up some points in the Power Stage. It was a memorable battle with Sébastien and M-Sport Ford which will undoubtedly go down in the WRC history books. We came here hoping to defend our lead of both championships but instead we have extended it – the perfect weekend!”
- The FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) heads into its summer break with the next round, Rally Finland, taking place from 26-29 July
- Round 8 of the 2018 season will be the last of four consecutive gravel events before moving back onto tarmac
Final Overall Classification – Rally Italia Sardegna
|1||T. Neuville||N. Gilsoul||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||3:29:18.7|
|2||S. Ogier||J. Ingrassia||Ford Fiesta WRC||+0.7|
|3||E. Lappi||J. Ferm||Toyota Yaris WRC||+1:56.3|
|4||H. Paddon||S. Marshall||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+2:55.2|
|5||M. Østberg||T. Eriksen||Citroën C3 WRC||+3:10.9|
|6||C. Breen||S. Martin||Citroën C3 WRC||+4:31.7|
|7||J.M. Latvala||M. Anttila||Toyota Yaris WRC||+11:22.1|
|8||O. Tänak||M. Järveoja||Toyota Yaris WRC||+12:38.2|
|9||J. Kopecky||P. Dresler||Škoda Fabia R5||+13:14.6|
|10||T. Suninen||M. Markkula||Ford Fiesta WRC||+15:30.4|