Belgian driver Thierry Neuville
banished memories of a torrid start to the 2016 season by claiming his second
career victory in a Hyundai i20 at the WRC Rally Italia Sardegna. He became the
fifth different winner in the last five FIA World Rally Championship rounds,
adding to his maiden victory in Germany in 2014.
However, Hyundai Motorsport
was hit by a massive Euros 50,000 (Rs 37.75 lakh approx.) fine late on Sunday
after admitting fitting the wrong rear side windows to Rally Italia Sardegna
winner Thierry Neuville's car.
The result marks the second
victory for the New Generation i20 WRC this season, and the team’s third win in
total after Rallye Deutschland in 2014 and Rally Argentina back in April.
Neuville faced an anxious wait
to see if he would keep his win after event stewards investigated a report from
FIA Technical Delegate, Jérôme Touquet, following post-event scrutineering.
Team boss Michel Nandan
admitted the windows on Neuville's i20 were not the same as those submitted in
photographs in the homologation form.
He said the illegal windows
had been used in all their 2016 cars since January's Rallye Monte-Carlo and
accepted they made a mistake in the homologation process.
Nandan explained that the
windows shown on the homologation form could not be fitted into the rear doors
of the finished car. The car was originally presented for inspection with the
doors unassembled and the team did not realise that the windows could not be
fitted into them.
Stewards were told the new
windows were 17g lighter on one side and 19g lighter on the other.
Meanwhile, in the race, Neuville headed Jari-Matti
Latvala’s Volkswagen Polo R by 24.8sec after four-days of rough gravel speed
tests on the Mediterranean island.
Championship leader Sébastien
Ogier extended his points advantage by finishing third in another Polo R, a
further 1min 13.0sec behind.Despite overshooting a hairpin bend, Ogier won the
final live TV Power Stage to claim three bonus points. Dutchman Kevin Abbring
took two points for second in an i20, while Latvala claimed the final point in
Neuville won nine of the 19
speed tests, moving to the front on Friday afternoon and repelling a determined
challenge from Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finn closed to within three seconds on
Saturday before Neuville pulled clear and eased through Sunday’s final leg.
“My second time and there is much less
pressure leading the rally,” he said, adding that “We had a great weekend and
great things come to those who go and earn it. The feeling was good in the car,
hopefully it’ll be like this for the rest of the season. It wasn’t easy but we
keep working and it’s good for the confidence.”
Despite an ill-handling
Volkswagen Polo R, Latvala led three times on Friday as he exchanged blows with
Neuville and Sébastien Ogier. A new gearbox rectified the handling issues but
Latvala conceded defeat on SUnday morning when the gap rose towards 20sec.
Ogier extended his championship lead by
finishing third in another Polo R. As road opener, he lost time sweeping the
dry gravel and gambled with soft tyres on Friday and Saturday morning to
achieve his target of a podium finish.
Dani Sordo claimed his fourth
consecutive fourth place in an i20 to climb to second in the points standings.
Ott Tänak and Eric Camilli, who claimed his maiden stage victory on Sunday,
completed the top six in Ford Fiesta RS cars.
Henning Solberg overcame final
day suspension problems to finish seventh ahead of WRC 2 winner Teemu Suninen,
Jan Kopecky and Karl Kruuda.
Mads Østberg failed to restart
on Sunday after his team diagnosed a damaged engine following a broken
driveshaft the previous day. Other major retirements earlier in the rally
included Hayden Paddon and Lorenzo Bertelli who both crashed.
Hyundai Motorsport has now
taken podiums in five out of six rallies this season, with two victories,
making it the team’s most successful WRC season even before reaching the
halfway point. Next round of the FIA WRC, WRC Rally Poland, takes place from
June 30 to July 3, and will mark the halfway point of the 2016 WRC Championship.
Source: WRC / Hyundai
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