SÉBASTIEN Ogier grabbed an early lead at Rally Italia Sardegna on Thursday night after winning a head-to-head heat against arch-rival Thierry Neuville on the opening stage.
The 2.0 kilometre Ittiri Arena Show on a rain-soaked former motocross track saw Ogier defeat the Belgian by 0.7sec, but take an overall 0.1sec lead over Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen.
“The plan is to try to do a good weekend. We had really good speed at the last round in Portugal but finished without any points. Speed is not enough, we need to bring back the consistency,” said Ogier, who trails Neuville by 19 points in the drivers’ championship standings.
Neuville’s performance in a Hyundai i20 was good enough to place him third in the standings, 0.6sec behind teammate Mikkelsen.
Elfyn Evans beat Esapekka Lappi to claim fourth in another Fiesta, with Kiwi Hayden Paddon and Lappi rounding off the top six in the overall positions after SS1.
Craig Breen was the only big name to have a problem. The Irishman stalled his Citroen C3 and was left to languish in 13th position overnight, 6.4sec behind Ogier.
Big crowds braved the rain and with forecasts suggesting more rain overnight, conditions for Friday’s opening leg could be far removed from those traditionally experienced on the sun-kissed Mediterranean island.
The action continues with two loops of four tests north-east of the Alghero service park totalling 124.18km. Drivers regard it as the toughest leg of the event, the abrasive roads demanding careful tyre management.