Fierce title fight in full swing, as WRC hits halfway point
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At the halfway point of the 2019 FIA World Rally Championship the leading three drivers — representing three different manufacturers — are separated by just 10 points in a fierce title fight.
Round eight of the championship starts on Friday morning (NZ time) with the narrow, rocky mountain roads and the summer climate of Sardinia, the venue for Italy’s round.
Crews tackle the Ittiri Arena super special stage on Thursday evening (Friday morning NZ time) before the Alghero-based event heads into the mountains with the itinerary featuring about 20km of new roads and a number of revised stage layouts.
On Friday, the route consists of two loops of four stages to the northeast of Alghero providing 124km of competition.
Saturday is the longest day of the rally with nearly 145km of competition in a group of three longer stages, which are driven twice in the Monte Acuto region with the highlight being the Monte Lerno stage and the famous Micky’s Jump.
Sunday’s route is unchanged from last year with two repeated stages covering 41.94km on the coast north of Alghero. The Sassari-Argentiera Wolf Power Stage ends the rally with a spectacular final section alongside the coastline.
The championship’s most recent round in Portugal earlier this month saw Toyota’s Ott Tanak (Estonia) become the first three-time winner for this season. Tanak led home Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville (Belgium) by 15.9s while championship leader Sebastien Ogier (France) was third in his Citroen. Neuville and Ogier have two wins each to date this season.
With Ogier taking the five bonus points for winning the Power Stage, the defending world champion holds a two-point advantage over Tanak in the championship ahead of the Italian round in Sardinia.
Ogier benefited from the final stage demise of Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke, who has been in third place before clipping a rock and damaging the suspension on his Toyota Yaris.
Ogier leads the Driver’s Championship with 142 points from Tanak on 140 and Neuville on 132. It’s a large gap back to Elfyn Evans (GB) — who finished fifth in Portugal — in fourth place on 65 points. Meeke is fifth on 56 points.
Meeke’s retirement was costly to Toyota’s Manufacturers’ Championship hopes but it still narrowed Hyundai’s lead in Portugal.
Neuville’s second place and a 23rd place for Dani Sordo (Spain) brought 24 points for the Korean marque while Toyota earned 33 points from Tanak’s win and Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland) recovering to seventh place after delays on day two. Hyundai Motorsport leads with 202 points from Toyota with 182 points and Citroen on 158.
After the Italian round the championship takes a seven-week Northern Hemisphere summer break before resuming in Finland from August 1-4.