Al-Attiyah wins P-WRC by 1.5 seconds in last stage charge in Sardinia
In one of the most exciting ends to a round of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT, Subaru) came from behind on the final stage to win the Rally d’Italia Sardegna by just 1.5 seconds. Co-driven by Italy’s Giovanni Bernacchini, Al-Attiyah overcame illness and low energy levels to find incredible speed in the closing stages, as he took the smallest of victories in his Barwa Rally Team Impreza.

Three different manufacturers – Subaru, Skoda and Mitsubishi – finished in the top three in Sardinia, and the top three drivers in the P-WRC standings are now separated by just three points, with three rounds remaining. Al-Attiyah has a two point lead over Armindo Araújo, with Patrik Sandell a further one point behind in third.

This was a fiercely contested rally by any standards, and the P-WRC lead changed no fewer than eight times in the first nine stages.

As five times FIA Middle East Rally Champion, Al-Attiyah is well acclimatised to maintaining top rally speed and concentration in hot whether, and he put himself in contention for P-WRC victory with a cool and professional drive on a very hot day one in Sardinia – despite feeling unwell. A softer set-up on his Subaru improved traction on the second loop of stages, allowing the Rally Argentina P-WRC winner to lead twice on day one (after setting fastest time on SS1 and again after fastest times on SS4 and 5) and he completed the opening day just six seconds off the lead. He continued to make adjustments to the set-up of his Impreza during day two, as a close and exciting two-way battle for victory unfolded between himself an Sandell. Al-Attiyah set another fastest time on SS10, despite bending the steering and having to make repairs on the road section after the stage, and he finished day two 23.5 second behind Sandell. Al-Attiyah could have settled for second place and eight points on day three, but he decided to fight for victory and the maximum 10 points – and immediately closed the gap to 8.6 seconds on the final day’s opening stage. Sandell responded, but a breathtaking push over the last two stages saw Al-Attiyah score one of the most exciting wins in P-WRC history.

Patrik Sandell (S, Skoda) stopped using the handbrake after just 2kms of SS1, when he feared aggressive driving might turn the strange noise coming from the rear of the car into a more serious mechanical problem. It was a wise move, for the 27-year old driver from Östersund was able to maintain his challenge for the lead, despite a spin and stall on the day’s final stage. Led by team boss and former works VW rally driver Raimund Baumschlager, Sandell made some good set-up changes in preparation for day two, and he took the lead of P-WRC with fastest time on the day’s opening stage. He led for most of the day and by the end his advantage was the biggest it had been all rally – albeit just 23.5 seconds. Sandell pushed hard on day three and walked up to the finish line of SS17 to see Al-Attiyah complete the final stage 5.5 seconds faster than him to win by just 1.5 seconds. In a great show of sportsmanship, the two drivers embraced and congratulated each other on what had been a fantastic duel.

After his first P-WRC victory of his career in Portugal, Armindo Araújo (P, Mitsubishi) arrived in Sardinia leading the series and confident of challenging for another European rally win. Despite a misfire on day one, he ended the day just 16.2 seconds off the lead, and a stunning time on SS8 – completing the 22km Fiorentini test exactly one second per kilometre faster than anyone else – saw him move to the top of the leaderboard. His lead was brief, for on the next stage the rear right suspension arm came loose and he lost almost a minute nursing his Lancer to the end, dropping to third and leaving the fight for P-WRC honours between Sandell and Al-Attiyah. The rear left suspension arm failed on SS10 (a very rough stage, immediately after service), forcing him to reduce speed over day’s two final pair of stages to prevent further damage. Unable to challenge the top two, and with a big gap to fourth, Araújo took it carefully through day three to finish third.

Patrik Flodin (S, Subaru) started carefully and increased his pace to lead at the end of day one – albeit just 0.7 seconds ahead of Sandell. A broken driveshaft, 2kms into the opening stage of day two, saw the 24-year old driver from Ilsbo lose over three minutes over the morning’s loop of three stages, dropping him to fifth and out on contention for P-WRC victory. He replaced the gearbox and made set-up changes in service, which allowed him to fly through the afternoon stages and set fastest time on SS12 – a faster, smoother and more flowing stage, which he really enjoyed. Then on the road section to SS14 a problem with the fuel pump wiring forced Flodin to stop and extinguish a small fire. He thought he’d fixed the cause, but towards the end of SS14 the wires caught fire again and he had to stop in the next road section to make more running repairs. He eventually got his Impreza to service, albeit nine minutes late, for which he received 90 seconds of penalties. With four minutes between him and the car immediately ahead and behind him, Flodin cruised through the final day to finish fourth.

Eyvind Brynildsen’s (N, Mitsubishi) speed and split times were good, but as outside temperatures soared to over 30şC the fuel in his Lancer’s tank was getting so hot it was causing the fuel pump to stop working. The car finally stopped near the end of day one’s last stage (SS6), and the 21-year old driver from Moss restarted day two on a charge – moving up from ninth to sixth in four stages, despite hitting a stone 10kms into SS9 and bending the rear right suspension arm. Despite a loss of engine power when the air temperature increased each afternoon, he eventually came home fifth.

Frédéric Sauvan’s (F, Mitsubishi) had a quiet start to Rally d’Italia Sardegna – quite literally, as his intercom didn’t work on the opening loop of three stages. The reigning French Group N Tarmac Rally Champion was sixth when a heavy landing on SS9 broke his Lancer’s radiator, forcing him out for the day. Sauvan started day three eighth, and had his sights set on Gianluca Linari, who was 1min 05.9secs ahead. A brilliant drive saw him overhaul his rival and he eventually finished a fine sixth.

Gianluca Linari (I, Subaru) only took delivery of his new Impreza 10 days before the start of the event, and with the aim of getting acquainted by completing all the stages, a solid trouble-free run saw the professional architect reach the finish in seventh position - just 0.6 seconds ahead of Gabor Mayer.

Gabor Mayer (H, Subaru) was enjoying a good run in eighth when halfway through SS8 he slid a little too sideways, hit a bank and bent the steering arm. On the next stage he hit a rock and bent the rear left suspension arm, so was pleased to reach the midday service. Mayer hit another bank on SS11 and then a big hole on SS12, but survived with only bodywork damage to complete day two in seventh place. Sauvan and Linari both got ahead of him on day three, as Mayer eventually came home in eighth to score the final P-WRC point.

Having won Group N on last year’s Rallye Deutschland, Hermann Gassner Jr. (I, Subaru) was aiming for a good finish on this, his fifth WRC start. The 20-year old, who is currently second in the German Rally Championship, started well, but crashed into a tree on SS5 and damaged the radiator, forcing him out for the day. Day two wasn’t much better, as water got into the engine after a watersplash on the road section between SS8-9, forcing him out again. He restarted day three and after a good run finished the final stage in ninth, but stopped on the road section to the finish ramp with reported fuel problems.

Bernardo Sousa (P, Abarth) had a good run through day one, finishing fifth – albeit 1min 23secs behind the top four. A big vibration on SS9 gave cause for concern and the 22-year old had to struggle through all of the afternoon’s loop of stages in front-wheel drive when his Grande Punto S2000 suffered transmission problems. A broken gearbox support on SS14 reduced Sousa’s speed on day three, and he was heading for a fifth place finish when his car died a few kilometres before the end of the final stage and refused to restart.

Martin Semerád (CZ, Mitsubishi) was looking forward to a good result, but fuel problems forced him to stop on SS2. He restarted on day two, only for engine problems to prevent him reaching the end of SS12. Unfortunately, Semerád was not able to start day three and spent his 19th birthday watching the rally instead of competing in it.

Fellow Pirelli Star Driver Mark Tapper (NZ, Mitsubishi) only got one stage further than Semerád when fuel problems brought his day’s rallying to a premature end on SS3. He restarted the following day, but only got as far as 9kms into SS8 before he left the road and hit a tree – forcing him out of the event.

Having missed Portugal and Argentina with a hand injury, Egoi Eder Valdés López’s (E, Subaru) return to competition was ruined when a turbo sensor problem delayed his Impreza on SS1. Having lost two minutes on the opening stage, he then collected 25 minutes of penalties when he skipped the day’s remaining five tests. Egoi restarted day two, but missed most of it after a heavy landing on SS8 broke the Impreza’s radiator and damaged the car so much he was unable to start day three.

Reigning Italian Gravel Rally Champion Simone Campedelli (I, Mitsubishi) was looking forward to a good run on his home round of the WRC, but disaster intervened on the road section to SS1 when the 22-year old’s car was damaged in a collision, caused by another car failing to give way. He completed the opening stage (finishing fifth, just 2.3 seconds behind the leader), but he wasn’t allowed to continue when safety checks found that the roll cage had been damaged. Andis Neiksans (LV, Mitsubishi) was excluded before the start following an incident on the recce, which resulted in the local police keeping hold of his driving licence.

1st – Nasser Al-Attiyah, Subaru Impreza:
“What a fantastic battle! I'm so happy to win here, I have won many rallies but this one is special because it's the first time for me in Sardinia and also this is the home country of my co-driver Giovanni. I have to thank my team and my codriver for the fantastic job they have done during the weekend. I have been feeling really unwell, but we have pushed hard – especially on the final two stages – and come away with the win. Having won last time out in Argentina, the win here is very good for our championship.”

2nd – Patrik Sandell, Skoda Fabia S2000:
“It was an incredible rally and an incredible last stage. I was flat-out all the way and I could not have driven faster on the final stage. It is quite frustrating to lose like this, but I have no regrets because we tried our best and fought until the very end. Many congratulations to Nasser on winning here, but we are only three points behind him in the championship and there is everything to play for.”

3rd – Armindo Araújo, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX:
“I am pleased with our performance, but our suspension arm problems on day two cost us a lot of time and after that we could not challenge for victory. On the final day we just tried to survive and waited for something to happen to the guys in front. Nothing happened, but we score six points – that’s good! Now I am already thinking about Greece where it will be a big battle between Nasser, myself and Patrik. I'm really looking forward to that.”

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