Summer sun and sand. The story of Sardegna 2023

June 07, 2023

Written by: Chris Hosie 

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After a thrilling and emotional weekend in Portugal, the WRC arrived at the Italian Island of Sardegna for the sixth round of the 2023 season. Kalle Rovanpera arrived as the new championship leader. However, the Hyundais and Ford’s would be out for blood along with his Toyota teammates. Including a returning Sebastian Ogier, the 8-time champion making another of his guest appearances. 

The rally took place over four days on the beautiful Italian island, located west of the mainland coast of Northern Italy. The rally began with a stage in the afternoon of Thursday and saw a very clear statement of intent from the Hyundai camp. With Esapekka Lappi claiming victory on the rallies opening test. Ott Tanak was second in his Puma with the Hyundai of Thierry Neuville close behind in third. Rovanpera was in the thick of it in fifth position with Ogier behind him in sixth place. Taka Katsuta started his rally well with a fourth-place result on the first stage. 


Oliver Solberg got off to a flying start in WRC2. Taking the class lead and 10th on the overall timing sheets and leading a full Skoda knockout of the top five. With Mikolaj Marczyk, Andreas Mikkelsen, Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Emil Lindholm rounding out the top five. Georg Linnamae was the first of the non-Skoda entries in sixth place with his Hyundai Rally2. Roope Korhonen led the overnight standings in the WRC3 and Rally3 divisions. Followed by William Creighton and Diego Dominguez.

Friday would be the first proper day of rally action and it was set to be an all-out fight between the three prime manufacturers. It would turn out to be a very dramatic opening day in the 2023 season. With Lappi initially holding the lead only to lose it to a hard charging Ogier. The two would battle all through the day with the Finn eventually winning out. Regaining the lead by just one tenth of a second over the 8-time champion. Despite this round going to the Finn, it had set the stage for a potentially thrilling fight for the win on the demanding gravel tracks of the famed Italian island.

Katsuta had a fast start to his day, taking a stage win on SS3. However, he would become involved in a fight with Rovanpera and Neuville for third with the Belgian taking P3 on the overnight leaderboard. After a fast and hard charging drive from a driver who never gives up in pursuit of victory and big championship points. Rovanpera ended the day fourth on the overnight charts despite a collision on SS4 with an errant cow. Yes, the defending world champion had his charge hampered by a four-legged beast from Clarkson’s Farm. Thankfully, the damage to both was minimal and the Toyota was able to continue to the finish. Though it might be a little while before the Finn accepts an invite to the local steakhouse after this near rally ending incursion.

M-Sport’s day started great with Tanak being in the top three and in prime form for a possible victory. However, as soon as Ogier and Rovanpera turned up the wick, the Estonian found it hard to keep up with the top contenders. He would finish the day in seventh behind an off pace Elfyn Evans. At least Tanak’s was able to finish the day. Pierre Louis Loubet had an altogether different ending to his Friday. He was on a charge until he suffered issues with his car during the afternoon which culminated in his car bogging down on the last stage of the day, SS7. A frustrating and bitter start to the Frenchman’s charge. 

Another driver to have a terrible day was Spain’s Dani Sordo. He was on a charge in the morning until he crashed off in spectacular fashion on SS3. He was able to continue with both he and his Co-driver both unharmed. But the incident immediately defused the Spaniards chances of success and saw him tumble right down the standings like a beach ball on an embankment. He wasn’t the only one. WRC2 leader Oliver Solberg started the day strongly as he headed the massive class entry into the first proper day of competition. Then disaster struck the Norwegian as he clipped a rock and destroyed his left front suspension. A bitter blow to the Skoda star, who had dominated in Portugal only to be hit with a highly debatable before the final day. Also out on the first day was Gus Greensmith. He had a massive crash on SS6 which caused him to spend the night in hospital for observation. Thankfully, he and his Co-driver were able to emerge relatively unscathed from the incident.

This, along with incredible speed and drama’s effecting other around him, allowed Adrien Fourmaux to grab the overnight lead of WRC2. The Frenchman hoping for victory on the famed Italian island after claiming a win on the grey stuff at the Jim Clark rally the previous week, as part of his British Championship campaign. Lindholm, Mikkelsen and Marczyk rounded out the top four with Yohan Rossel rounding out the top five in WRC2. Other drivers going strongly in the top 10 and 15 included Robert Virves, Teemu Suninen, Eric Cais, Martin Prokop, Lauri Joona and Ireland’s Josh McErlean. 

Mauro Miele was the top dog in the WRC2 Master's division with Korhonen holding his own out front in the WRC3 standing. William Creighton was second behind the Finn. However, he had a comfortable advantage in the Junior World Championship standings. The JWRC making its return after its last outing in Croatia. Matteo Fontana led the way in the non-championship Rally4 class. With a long train of Peugeots behind his own 208. In Rally5, another non championship class, it was a closely fought contest between the two leading Renaults. With Monaco’s Marc Dessi being placed in P1 ahead of Slaven Sekuljica.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny. However, a great deal of dampness awaited the crews as the stages were noticeably wetter than previous years. This also created some rather deep and spectacular water splashes which caused a few issues for some of the crews. One of the worst affected was Taka Katsuta. He went through a water splash so hard he created a great deal of damage to his Yaris. Including his radiator which, ironic, spilled its fluids after the watery impact and his rally was done before lunchtime on the second full day of competition.

At least he started the event, while Loubet was retired from the event by the Ford team due to lingering issues with the Frenchman’s faltering Puma. Ford’s day would become even worse when Tanak, who was trying to climb back from sixth, suffered mechanical issues of his own and his rally also ended before Lunch. Drama also struck the leader of WRC3 as Korhonen rolled his Fiesta in a dramatic fashion. However, he re-joined and was able to keep going. Despite his car looking a bit more second hand than it had before the incident.

In Rally1 it was a real dogfight of a day as Lappi and Ogier swapped places for control of the rally. The 8-time champ gaining the upper hand and was on a real charge. However, he was also trying to keep Lappi and later, a flying Neuville of his rear bumper. That problem was further compounded when the heavens opened on SS13 making thing much wetter and slippery for all concerned. Then, on SS14, disaster struck the Frenchman. In one of those rare Sebastian mistakes, he slid wide in a left-hand bend and beached his car on the edge of a steep, tree lined hill. Neuville passed him on the stage and stole the lead from the Toyota. 

Ogier tumbled down the order while the Hyundais shot to the top. The Belgian ending the day with a 36 second lead over Lappi with Rovanpera and a recovering Evans placing third and fourth respectively. Dani Sordo was now fifth and the last Rally1 car I. The points paying positions. Sixth Overall and flying the Ford flag was WRC2 leader, Adrien Fourmaux. He had a very strong lead over Mikkelsen and Suninen making it three brands in the top 3 in class. With Ford ahead of Skoda and Hyundai. Gregoire Munster was still going strong in the top 10 in class with Cais ahead of him in his Fabia Rally2. 

In WRC3 Korhonen lost his lead of the class, and it was Junior World Championship contender Creighton that was now in front. However, the Irishman lost his lead of the Junior class thanks to a puncture in the morning. This allowed Diego Dominguez to take the lead only for him to lose it thanks to an incredible drive from the Irish youngster. Eamonn Kelly was also having a great rally, he was in fourth place in pursuit of the man in third. The Spanish entry driven by Roberto Blach. Raul Hernandez had his rally come to an end on Saturday after he damaged his suspension. Fontana still led in Rally4 with Slaven overtaking Dessi for the lead in Rally5. One of the real stand out drives came from Junior Championship contender Laurent Pellier. He had a terrible start in to his rally on Friday. But, with an incredible show of speed he brought a deficit of five minutes on the leaders down to just two minutes. As well as finishing Saturday in Fourth amongst the Junior contingent.

Sunday was the Rally’s final day, and it would see some amazing drives from those restarting under Super Rally in the Rally1 division. Sordo, Tanak and Katsuta all set competitive times over the final four tests. However, Sordo’s run would end on SS17 thanks to a mechanical fault with his I20. No problems were to be found with the rally leader, as Thierry Neuville produced a faultless drive to take a well-deserved and well driven victory with Lappi coming home second. Rovanpera finished third with his teammate, Evans fourth. Tanak suffered issues with his Puma during the day which saw him drop right out of the points in 13th. Ogier, also restarting, finished 12th overall and fifth in Rally1.

WRC2 saw the rally’s last big drama. Class leader Adrien Fourmaux went into the event with one clear goal, to finish the rally and win. All went his way until the final stage of the event, his Ford slid off into a ditch in the final kilometres and got stuck. Agonisingly close to victory, the Frenchman watched as the Skoda of Andreas Mikkelsen went past and claimed victory in WRC2. Making it the second rally in succession that a WRC2 victory was ripped from the dominant class leader on the final day. Second place went to the Hyundai of Suninen and third went to the Fabia of Kajetanowicz. Rossel, Marczyk and Cais rounded out the top six. Martin Prokop came home ninth behind Joona with Josh McErlean claiming tenth in class. Mikkelsen and the rest of the top six in class also rounded out the top 10 in the overall standings.  

WRC3 saw Roope Korhonen reclaim his lead and take victory in class and in Rally3 overall. William Creighton claimed second in WRC3 and took victory in the Junior Championship. A much-needed boost to the Irishman’s championship challenge in the Junior division. In Rally5, Slaven Sikuljica went out on the penultimate test, and this gifted victory to Marc Dessi. Rally4 went again to Fontana. In the WRC2 Masters division Johannes Keferbock claimed victory ahead of Mauro Miele. With Middle Eastern champion and W2RC contender Nassar Al Attiyah finishing fifth in the Masters.

And that, as they say in filming, is a wrap on Rally Sardegna 2023. A rally which has proven to be one of the most dramatic and unpredictable of the 2023 season. Can the Hyundai’s press home their newfound pace or will Rovanpera and Toyota strike back with a vengeance? Find out next time when the WRC returns to action on the 22-25th June. Where the world's greatest drivers will tackle the most historic and challenging rally on the calendar. The rugged, demanding and seemingly untameable Safari Rally in the picturesque lands of Kenya. 


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