Tanak shows the world a masterclass: The story of Rally Sardegna 2022.

June 12, 2022

Written by Chris Hosie

Image credit wrc.com

Last time out, the WRC tackled the fearsome and rough gravel roads of the Vodaphone Rally Portugal. It was an event that saw Kalle Rovanpera claim victory as rivals and legends fell by the way side. Things were just as dramatic in WRC2 and the Junior World Championship. Would Toyota claim victory again? Or would Hyundai or Ford get one over the unstoppable Japanese winning machine?

Rally Sardegna kicked off with a spectator stage on the Thursday evening. Once again, it was Thierry Neuville who would set the quickest time through that stage. With Ott Tanak, Elfyn Evans and Esapekka Lappi also setting great times.

Friday was the first real test for the stars and cars of the WRC. And it would turn out to be another drama fest. Elfyn Evans set the pace on the days first stage and was set to seize the initiative. But, a water leak on SS3 would end the Welshman’s charge before it could even begin. Another wretched disaster for Cymru’s finest.

This disaster allowed his teammate, Esapekka Lappi, to inherit the lead on SS3. Only to lose the lead to Tanak on SS5.  Neuville also adding to the Fins pressure, by winning SS4. Tanak would hold the lead until SS7. When the Estonian would suffer transmission issues with his I20. Lappi would retake the lead. The battle was put on hold for the remainder of Friday. Stages 8 and 9 being cancelled due to safety concerns.

It wasn’t just the lead that was hotly disputed during Friday. M-Sports Craig Breen and Pierre Louis Loubet dueled all day for third place. Eventually it was Loubet who won out. Demoting Breen to fourth. Adrian Fourmaux was also on fine form. He would end the day in sixth place. Just behind him was Takamoto Katsuta. He was also in hot form. Trying to get in amongst the top 5. Hyundai had Neuville and Sordo in the top 5. Both ready to pounce and get the lead off the TGRs. But, for the time being, Toyota were once again looking unbeatable.

Friday wasn’t totally trouble free for the worlds finest. Lappi had a scare on SS6 and also had a puncture earlier in the day. This of course costing him the initial lead. Kalle Rovanpera would end the day in the bottom half of the top 10. He was off the pace of the top runners all day. A slight scare on one stage looked harmless. However, the moment in question had taken the rear wing off the Toyota Yaris Rally 1. Thankfully it didn’t deter the Fins pace. Rovanpera was on a mission for the rest of the day.

Gus Greensmith was also on the pace at the beginning of Friday. Until, that is, SS3 where he slid off into a bush and lost considerable time to the chasing pack. He would get back underway. However, a long slogging catchup awaited the brit for the rest of the day and potentially the rally.

In WRC2, Andreas Mikkelsen would take the lead and spend the whole of Friday extending that lead to finish with a very comfortable margin. Nikolay Gryazin would finish the day in second despite his best efforts to catch the Norwegian. Jari Huttunen was originally in fourth for M-Sport Ford. Then a puncture would send the fin down to seventh.

At least he was still going. Hyundai’s Teemu Suninen was in third in the WRC2 class. He was also in pursuit of Gryazin when the Hyundai I20 Rally2’s suspension got damaged and the fin retired. Losing all hope of a podium place. Thankfully he along with Evans in Rally1 would restart under Super Rally. All this commotion allowed Jan Solans to claim third in class on the overnight leaderboard.

In the WRC3 class Jan Cerny would also grab the lead and end the day with an incredible advantage over the opposition. Lauri Joona and Jon Armstrong were also in fine form and battling not jus for position but also to catch and snatch the lead from Cerny. More thrilling battles awaited the support classes as well as the Rally1 brigade on Saturday.

Saturday would hardly be a few kilometers old and the first major drama would occur. Esapekka Lappi was determined to extend his advantage over Tanak. However, he would retire from the rally in one of the most unusual incidents in motorsport and WRC History. The Toyota found the ruts a bit too much to handle. Resulting, in the left and right rear wheels and suspension being ripped off the car. the right rear was still with the car when it came to a stop. The left rear, however, wasn’t.  it was a terrible disappointment for the Finnish driver.

This allowed Tanak to retake the lead of the rally. From there he would never look back. Claiming stage win after stage win. He would end the day with a comfortable lead over his closest rivals. Dani Sordo was also in terrific form on Saturday. He would end the day in third place after a fierce battle with the Fords of Loubet and Breen. both M-Sport drivers had their finest performances of the season. Breen managing to hold of the charging Spaniard by close of play. Loubet also keeping the second Hyundai honest during the day. Ready to capitalize on any problems from the top 3 runners.

Kalle Rovanpera was also going well. Trying to catch the leading Hyundai’s. However, he was still lagging back in the top 8. The prospects of another win in a row, now looking very unlikely. Taka Katsuta was also having a great rally. Thanks to the dramas of others, he would be in the top 5. Having started the day in seventh.

Adrien Fourmaux would try his best all through the day to hold sixth place. He looked like he would do so. Until the last stage. On SS17, he lost control of his Ford and crashed into a bush. Game over and sixth place gone for the young Frenchman. He would, however, restart on Sunday. Gus Greensmith was also a driver in strife. He was struggling to match the pace of his teammates and the leading runners. However, he would still finish the day in the top 10.

WRC3 saw a dramatic change in the lead of the class. Jan Cerny was the leader in WRC3. Until, a drama saw him drop from the lead and four minutes behind the new class leader, Diego Dominguez Jr. The young talent from Paraguay was now poised for a remarkable and historic win in the WRC3 class.

The WRC2 class was also enjoying a titanic leading battle. Andreas Mikkelsen led on the opening stages of Saturday and was, again, extending his lead over his rivals. Until SS13, when his Skoda suffered problems and he was forced to retire from the lead. He wasn’t the only Toksport Skoda to suffer problems. Marquinto Bulacia also retired from WRC2.

Teemu Suninen was able to restart on the rallies second day. Thing were going well for the Hyundai star. But, again, he would retire from the event. This time with mechanical maladies. All this drama with the Skodas allowed M-Sports Jari Huttunen to climb back up to fourth in class. A very impressive recovery for someone who started the day in a difficult seventh.

Toksport may have lost their top gun but it wasn’t all doom and despondency. Nikolay Gryazin inherited the lead and would spend the day extending that lead. In a truly magnificent display of driving and speed. Chris Ingram, the former European champion, was now in third and going well in the WRC2 Junior class. He would have a challenging Sunday though. Next job for the Brit. Fend off Huttunen and his very quick Fiesta.

 Jan Solans, a former Junior champion, was now promoted to second place in his Citroen C3 rally2. Could he take the fight to Gryazin on Sunday? It seemed possible; however, he would have to watch out for Ingram and the recovering Huttunen behind. Another Junior champion going well was Sami Pajari. The defending 2021 and current JWRC contender was in fifth place in another Skoda Rally2. A remarkable result thus far for a truly promising star of the WRCs future.

Skoda weren’t just leading WRC2 overall and the WRC2 Juniors. They were also leading the WRC2 Masters class. Former WRC Top Gun star, Freddy Loix, was making a welcome return to the championship in the sports second division. He was the leader of the Masters class and, to show just how amazing and talented the legend still is, he was would finish the day in 10th overall.

Sunday was the final day of Rally Italia Sardegna. A day still fraught with difficulties. But at least it was the last day of yet another challenging event for the WRCs finest.

Ott Tanak once again took the advantage over his rivals on Sunday. Winning the opening tests and conserving his lead. He emerged from the end of event Power stage as the undisputed winner of Rally Sardegna 2022. The Estonians title bid was now official. In addition, he and the Hyundai Team finally put the Toyota winning streak to an end. It was now a full-on duel for the title once more between these two legendary manufactures.

Hyundai’s Spanish star, Dani Sordo, would spend the day trying to catch the Ford of Craig Breen. But it was not to be. Third place would do for him. Making it a Hyundai 1, 3 on the podium. M-Sport had their best results of the season. It had been a long time since the success in Monte Carlo back in January. But the wait was worth it. Craig Breen holding on to second place and getting his second podium of the season. His first coming in Monte with a third-place finish. Pierre Loius Loubet came home fourth for the Cumbria based team and Gus Greensmith got another top 10 result. He finished seventh behind Toyota Junior star, Taka Katsuta.

Kalle Rovanpera made a splendid recover drive all weekend. He would finish the rally fifth ahead of his TGR junior teammate. Though fifth wasn’t what he was hoping for. It still gave him a nice haul of crucial championship points. His Chief rival, Evans was off the pace of the top runners. Even though he restarted under Super Rally on Saturday. He managed to finish the rally on Sunday. However, he came home in 40th place overall and with 0 points on his score card. He would be hoping for better luck next time out.

WRC3 saw another dramatic lead change on the last day. Diego Dominguez was in a comfortable spot out front. But then, he retired due to mechanical issues. This gave the lead back to Jan Cerny. Cerny took the lead of Dominguez and would cruise home to victory in the WRC3 class. Zoltan Laszlo was the second and last WRC3 contender to finish from just 4 starters. As Enrico Brazzoli also retired with problems on Saturday.

WRC2 saw a rather gentle end for once. Nikolay Gryazin taking victory for Skoda and Toksport. Jan Solans took a resplendent second place. While Gryazin also took the WRC2 Junior honors as well. Speaking of which, Chris Ingram went into the last day in third place. Jari Huttunen was behind him in fourth. The fin, however, set a blistering pace on the last day and took third away from Ingram. Making it three different brands in the top three places: Skoda, Citroen and Ford. Ingram got fourth overall as well as a brilliant second in the WRC2 Juniors.

 Current JWRC Title holder, Sami Pajari came home a very impressive fifth in WRC2. Freddy Loix also finishing in 10th and winning the WRC2 Masters class. Josh McErlean came 20th in the class in his Hyundai. While Martin Prokop finished ninth in his Fiesta Teemu Suninen restarted again on Sunday and would make it to the end of the event. While drivers such as; Eric Cais, Mauro Miele, Frederic Rosati and Simone Romagna all retired due to incidents or mechanical gremlins.

In the drivers title fight. Rovanpera still has a big margin over Thierry Neuville. With tanak passing breen for third. Katsuta dropping down to fifth.

In WRC2 Yohan Rossel still leads the standings. Gryazin, However, on the move. His win takes him up three places to second in points. Mikkelsen, Ingram and Kajetanowicz round out the top 5.

WRC3 sees current JWRC contender Pajari still in front. Cerny moves to second with his win. Laszlo moves to third place in points. While Lauri Joona and Brazzoli are demoted to fourth and fifth respectively.

So, there you have it. Another epic, dramatic, fast and rugged WRC Sardinian encounter. Hyundai may have ended the Toyota streak. But there is still a long way to go in the 2022 championship. Will it be Toyota or Hyundai who claim victory next time? And can Elfyn Evans evade disaster and misfortune to get his title bid back on track? Find out when the WRC returns to the mythic spectacle that is the Safari Rally in Kenya. The roughest, toughest and most grueling test on the World rally Calendar.


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