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UPDATE: Ogier wins Shakedown
1  Ogier (Volkswagen) 2m12.9s, 2  Østberg (Ford) 2m13.0s, 3  Tanak (Ford) 2m13.6s, 4  Neuville (Hyundai) 2m13.7s, 5  Paddon (Hyundai) 2m14.2s, 6  Abbring (Hyundai) 2m14.5s, 7  Latvala (Hyundai) 2m15.1s, 8  Camilli (Ford) 2m15.3s, 9  Sordo (Hyundai) 2m15.8s, 10 H. Solberg (Ford) 2m15.9s

SEBASTIEN Ogier starts Rally Italia Sardegna today determined in three ways to return to his winning routine in the FIA World Rally Championship.

The World Champion is targeting a fourth straight win on the island, but also wants to end the luck that has kept him off the top step of the podium snce March.

He’s also waiting for his wife Andrea to give birth to their first child. The baby is not due until after Italy, but if it arrives early, Ogier has his Volkswagen team’s permission to withdraw and fly home immediately.

But impending fatherhood will not distract Ogier if things run to schedule.

“I’m very confident heading to Italy, since the season has been fantastic so far. Julien (Ingrassia, co-driver) and I have been on the podium at every rally and we want to build on this streak. Even though it isn’t one of my favourite rallies, I have learned to like it,” he said.

Sardinia is another gravel rally and Ogier as championship leader will again start first on the road for the first two days, losing time “cleaning” the loose surface for his rivals following.

In Italy 282.56 kilometres of the 324.60 km total distance will be driven in this running order. The remaining 42.04 km on Sunday will be driven in the reverse order of the standings after Saturday.

Ogier will have plenty of challengers in his Polo R. Junior teammate Andreas Mikkelsen is on the rise and defending second spot in the standings, while Volkswagen’s other star Jari-Matti Latvala is anxious to put recent bad luck behind him.

Latvala won the rally in 2009 driving a Ford Focus RS WRC, but after his recent attempts were blighted by costly punctures, the Finn is determined this year to look after his tyres better.

“I have often picked up a puncture on Sardinia in recent times – perhaps because I pushed too close to the limit. This year I have made a resolution to look after my tyres better. My aim is to finish on the podium again,” he said.

He also intends to take advantage of his later road position.

“The gravel on Sardinia is usually very slippery on the first pass, my high starting number could be an advantage. Then all of the drivers usually have good grip on the second loop,” he explained.

Last year Latvala was locked in a battle for the lead with Hayden Paddon until he crashed, while the young New Zealander went on to finish second.

Rally Argentina winner Paddon is also highly motivated for this weekend and says his determination hasn’t faded after the crash in Rally Portugal last month that saw his Hyundai i20 burned to oblivion.

He thanked his Frankfurt-based team for building a new car in just seven working days.

“We had a hard weekend in Portugal, but the accident does not dent the confidence at all – in fact we are only more determined than ever to come back fighting in Sardinia. I’d like to thank everyone in the team for getting our car ready for us. Let’s hope we can repay those efforts with a positive result.”

Hyundai will run four i20 cars, with Thierry Neuville, Dani Sordo and Kevin Abbring also on the roster in the 2015 specification i20.

Rally Portugal winner Kris Meeke won’t be present with his Citroen this weekend, but the Ford-powered M-Sport team will return to Sardinia confident after solid test over the past 10 days for drivers Mads Ostberg and Eric Camilli and privateers Ott Tanak and Lorenzo Bertelli.

Despite having only driven in a handful of rallies on gravel, Camilli showed great promise in Portugal and the young Frenchman is determined to continue to show is potential on the narrow and fast Sardinian roads.

Stage action kicks off on Thursday night with a 2.0 km Super Special near Alghero, venue for the service park. Friday’s itinerary features eight tests,

Saturday will be the longest and toughest with six stages totalling 177 km and  the final leg on Sunday contains the familiar Cala Flumini coastal run and the new Sassari-Argentiera stage, the second pass of which forms the Power Stage.

Saturday draws huge crowds to the famous “Micky’s Jump” on Monte Lerno. Before turning right immediately before the crest, drivers brake briefly then, thanks to the sloping terrain, fly for up to 40 metres.

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.

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