Championship contender Jari-Matti Latvala ended a dramatic first day of Rally Italia with a lead of over 20 seconds, after a dominating performance on the afternoon stages in Sardinia.
Latvala began the afternoon with a slim lead over the Citroen of Mads Ostberg. Loose gravel and dust had hampered the lead cars during the morning stages, but going into the afternoon Latvala was able to increase his lead and win three of the four stages.
His Volkswagen team-mate Sébastien Ogier was able to compensate for his tough, gravel-clearing morning stages with his first stage win of the event, which put the Frenchman in second, ahead of Ostberg.
Ogier admitted he had struggled early on and has been pushing the car to it’s limits. “I’m taking lots of risks,” said the reigning World Champion. “Luckily the stages are very narrow and there are not so many options for a wrong line on the road”
The Hyundai’s of Thierry Neuville and Juho Hanninen had enjoyed some early success in the opening stages, and were looking to head into the afternoon stages in the lead. But disaster struck both cars on the Loelle stage as Neuville suffered a mechanical issue, losing over 20 minutes. While Hanninen rolled his i20 WRC to move out of contention.
Hyundai weren’t the only ones to encounter problem on day one. Kris Meeke suffered a battery issue on the penultimate morning stage, while Mikko Hirvonen was forced to retire after his M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS caught fire and burnt out as the Finn was heading to the third stage.
There were no such problems for the third VW of Andreas Mikkelesen. The Norwegian was able to close the deficit to his fellow countryman Ostberg to just 4.0s at the end of the day. This left Mikkelsen in fourth place, over 35 seconds off the leader.
Two of the M-Sport Ford’s also had a solid day. Robert Kubica ended the day in fifth thanks to his new cautious approach. He finished just under 10 seconds ahead of his team-mate Elfyn Evans, who was seventh before the interval.
Martin Prokop had been running third before the interval but suffered some severe handbrake problems during the afternoons stages to drop the privateer Ford man down to seventh, ahead of Henning Solberg.
1. Jari-Matti Latvala VW 1h49m09.5s
2. Sebastien Ogier VW +22.4s
3. Mads Ostberg Citroen +34.7s
4. Andreas Mikkelsen VW +37.7s
5. Robert Kubica M-Sport Ford +1m19.3s
6. Elfyn Evans M-Sport Ford +1m29.0s
7. Martin Prokop Czech Ford +1m36.9s
8. Henning Solberg Solberg Ford +1m36.9s
9. Yazeed Al Rajhi Yazeed Ford +5m15.8s*
10. Nasser Al-Attiyah M-Sport Ford +5m19.9s*