Exclusive – WRC Sardinia : “Atmosphere”

The fifth round of the 2011 World Rally Championship saw a return to the beautiful Mediterranean island of Sardinia following an absence from the Championship in 2010. The event was again based in the north-eastern port of Olbia and traditionally uses stages in the surrounding mountains of Gallura province.

However, this year the organisers formulated a new route using stages on Day 1 further south in the Oristano region, some of which were used last year when Sardinia played host to a round of the popular Intercontinental Rally Championship (IRC).

The event was dominated by seven-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb. Partnered by his long serving co-driver Daniel Elena, Loeb was in spectacular form and led the event virtually from start to finish despite running first on the road on all three days.

The event marked the much-anticipated debut of the BMW Mini WRC. British driver Kris Meeke made an extremely impressive start, posting top 3 stage times until a sticking throttle forced him off the road and into retirement on Day 1. Meeke returned to the fray under ‘SuperRally’ rules on Day 2, however a waterpump failure forced a second retirement.

Ford Fiesta WRC driver Mikko Hirvonen saw a return to form with a solid second place finish. Hirvonen made a small mistake on the final day when chasing down Loeb, a small overshoot costing him any chance of victory on Stage 17.

Hirvonen enjoyed a welcome bonus however when he set fastest time on the live for TV ‘Power Stage’, a new initiative for 2011 which gave him an extra 3 points towards his championship total.

Popular Norwegian driver Petter Solberg secured a late podium finish at the wheel of his Citroen DS3 WRC, when rear suspension failure suffered by Citroen star Sebastien Ogier promoted Solberg to third place on the final day.

Spanish star Dani Sordo adopted a cautious approach, guiding his Mini WRC to a respectable 6th place overall, securing Mini’s first WRC Manufacturer points in the process. The team is using the rest of this season as a competitive test ready for a full campaign next year.

Russian youngster Evgeny Novikov made his debut in a Fiesta WRC, eventually finishing in 13th overall after crashing out heavily on Day 1 following a misheard pacenote. Prior to the accident Novikov had been running as high as 3rd place, showing he has the speed to compete at the top level of the WRC.

Crowd favourite Jari-Matti Latvala was another to crash out early in the Rally. An incorrect pace note called by co-driver Mikka Antilla led to Latvala putting his Fiesta WRC off the road and out of the event. Upon returning under SupeRally on Day 2, Latvala proceeded to set seven fastest stage times to fight his way back to 18th overall.

Citroen driver Sebastien Ogier was in a comfortable 3rd place overall until rear suspenstion failure on the penultimate stage force dropped him one place to fourth behind Petter Solberg.

FIesta WRC driver Mads Ostberg built on his early season success and secured a useful 5th place, finishing just over two minutes behind Loeb.

Mathew Wilson suffered early on with steering problems caused by an impact with a rock, losing the Stobart Fiesta WRC considerable time on the opening loop of stages. Wilson battled back to a solid top ten finish, continuing his points scoring start to the year.

Swedish star PG Andersson made a welcome return to the WRC at the wheel of an M-Sport Stobart Fiesta WRC. Andersson enjoys enormous support from his Swedish fans, who ran a campaign earlier in the season to raise funds to pay for his drive. Andersson posted several top 5 stage times, however a broken steering arm and slow puncture cost him over 16 minutes and dropped him down to 30th at the end of Day 1.

M-Sport Stobart driver Henning Solberg endured a tough first day after hitting a bridge heavily on the third stage, causing damage to the rear damper. The car then caught fire at the end of the stage which thankfully was quickly extinguished by alert officials. Team mechanics battled to get the car fixed at remote service; however Solberg retired on Stage 7 with further engine problems and was unable to restart.

Dutch driver Peter Van Merksteijn Snr. puts his Citroen DS3 through its paces on the Shakedown stage. Van Merksteijn was one of the long list of retirements, going out on the first stage of Day 2.

Argentinian ace Federico Villagra slides his Fiesta WRC through the steep downhill section on SS17. Villagra finished a solid 14th overall.

Khalid Al-Qassimi finished one place ahead of Villagra in 13th, having enjoyed a relatively trouble free run.

Editorial : Rhodri Lewis

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