High drama in Sardinia saw the M-Sport crews battle brutal and unforgiving stages over the course of an especially challenging edition of Rally Italia Sardegna.
Turbulent weather conditions were to define the rally on the Italian island. Usually known for scorching temperatures and dry gravel, this year’s event instead delivered frequent rain showers, standing water and mud slides.
Starting second on the road, M-Sport’s championship challenger Ott Tänak battled ferociously through Friday morning’s loose surface to keep in the mix with his championship rivals. Tänak ended the day seventh overall with only a small margin to sixth. Upping the pace on Saturday’s opening stage, the Estonian ate away at the deficit and suddenly had fifth easily in his sights.
Following the heavy rain, the numerous water splashes in the Sardinian stages were becoming more and more of a challenge. Unfortunately, the water splash close to the stage end in SS9 saw Tänak’s engine stall just short of the finish line. A subsequent electrical fault meant the crew couldn’t repair the car road-side, so the car returned to service in preparation to re-start on Sunday.
Tänak was on top-form on Sunday morning. Claiming stage wins on the first two time tests, his sights were set on a dominant Power Stage push. The result was a second-fastest time and four points to take home. He now sits third in the championship standings.
Pierre-Louis Loubet started his weekend on an excellent note and was immediately on the pace on Friday, showcasing his established skill on gravel. The Frenchmen set top-five times in the morning loop, including an impressive fourth-fastest on the epic but grueling 49.9km Monte Lerno stage. He found himself in third overall by lunchtime service.
The afternoon loop began on the same fantastic pace that included an impressive second-fastest time on the first stage after lunch. But a small mistake saw Loubet slide off the road on the second pass of the event’s longest stage. Sadly the damage caused could not be repaired and there was no option but to retire him from the event.
Adrien Fourmaux was on formidable form from the very first stage, delivering a consistent and reliable drive deserving of a strong result. Building on his performances from an impressive season so far, and once again showcasing the pace of the Fiesta, Fourmaux would display a dominating performance over the course of the weekend.
An intelligent drive through Friday saw him finish the day in second overall. He would then pick up three stage wins throughout Saturday to launch him into first, extending his lead to 25.7s heading into the final days’ action.
Careful, calm and collected, Fourmaux claimed more strong times on Sunday morning, actually widening his advantage to second place and setting himself up for the final stage of the event. But heavy rain would bring desperately bad luck in SS19, Fourmaux aquaplaning off the road, causing rally-ending damage to the car. The disappointment for the whole team was clear to see, but the pace of the car over the incredible conditions and high competition was a big positive to take away from the weekend.
In WRC2, Grégoire Munster and Robert Virves had productive weekends, both contributing top-ten stage times to the Rally2’s roster throughout the weekend. Sunday morning’s SS17 was a particular highlight and saw all three Fiesta Rally2s set top-ten times in WRC2. Munster, who has learnt a lot from his season so far, put this work to good use and finished the event eighth in the WRC2 category.
Richard Millener, Team Principal, said:
“What can I say, I feel so sorry for the whole team, everyone is trying so hard and we have just not had any luck this weekend. Ott gave his all for the Power Stage and managed to gain four vital championship points, but the retirement of Pierre was a huge disappointment. Adrien drove a fantastic rally, he pushed where needed, and was controlled for the rest of the rally - through what can only be described as crazy conditions. The result was not what he deserved, but we will stand by him, in rally there are always difficult times, but his speed and showing of talent this weekend is what we should remember. Let’s bounce back in Kenya, we will not give up, that’s for sure!”
Ott Tänak, 35th overall, said:
“It’s true to say it has been a hard weekend. It’s not been great, the weather made it tricky and I think a lack of performance from me also. I struggled to find the speed. The stage times aren’t what I should be delivering, at the moment I’m not close to what I should deliver. There is something lacking a bit. Hopefully with time we will find that extra speed.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet, retired Friday, said:
“This is not what we had hoped for this weekend, we were looking forward to a good result. Things were working really nicely on Friday, even though the conditions weren’t perfect, we still did some good times and had a nice position. We’re all sorry to not see the results we were hoping for. We will take a bit of time to refocus and get ready for Kenya.”
Adrien Fourmaux, retired Sunday, said:
“I’m really heartbroken for all the team who were hoping for this result. We were really close, and I’m very disappointed it ended like this. I have been so comfortable in the car all weekend and we were happy to be fighting at the front. I was happy with how we managed the car, but heavy rain in the power stage changed everything for us. The car feels really good and we have everything working well. It’s a shame but we have to look forward now.”
Published 05 June 2023