Hyundai Motorsport has taken a dramatic victory in Rally Italia Sardegna, the seventh round of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), as Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul stole a last gasp win with a sublime performance on the final morning.

The Belgian crew started the day with a 3.9-second deficit to leader M-Sport Ford’s Sébastien Ogier, but a perfect Sunday morning with four stage wins, including the Power Stage, allowed them to steadily catch and pass the Frenchman.

They took a memorable result by a mere 0.7-seconds after 313.46km of competitive Sardinian stages. In one of the closest finishes in WRC history, it actually matches the same minuscule gap by which Neuville beat Elfyn Evans in the 2017 edition of Rally Argentina.

The result is Hyundai Motorsport’s third win of the 2018 season and tenth in its WRC history. It marks the team’s second victory in Rally Italia Sardegna following Neuville’s triumph in 2016, and the fourth Sardinia event in succession where it has finished on the podium.

Sunday celebrations
Four stages were contested on Sunday morning with two runs through the 14.06km Cala Flumini and 6.96km coastal Sassari-Argentiera tests. There was no respite for any of the crews with tense battles throughout the field. While Neuville and Ogier battled it out at the front, Hayden Paddon was able to defend his fourth place from Mads Østberg with a solid Sunday, securing his best result of the season so far.

One-time rally leader Andreas Mikkelsen wrestled two consolatory driver points for finishing fourth in the nerve-wracking and competitive Power Stage.

With this victory, Hyundai Motorsport has extended its grip on the manufacturers’ championship with 212 points, an increased gap of 28 points to M-Sport Ford in second. Neuville’s five additional points for Power Stage success saw him take the maximum available for the weekend and increase his lead in the drivers’ classification to 27 points over Ogier.

Since its WRC debut in 2014, Hyundai Motorsport has now taken ten victories and a total of 40 individual podiums. As the 2018 season passes its halfway mark, the team now heads into the summer break with an opportunity to reflect on a hugely successful season-to-date.

Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (#5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)

  • Third win of 2018 season with six consecutive stage wins from SS15 to the SS20 Power stage
  • Increases drivers’ championship lead taking maximum 30 points on offer

Neuville said: “I can’t believe it! We knew we had to give it everything we had this morning, and it was a truly fantastic fight with Sébastien. The gap at the end was so small and we left absolutely nothing behind. We kept pushing as hard as we could without doing anything stupid. Battling against Séb is one of the most difficult things to do, so this is a precious victory. Nicolas and I send massive thanks to the whole Hyundai Motorsport team for giving us a great car this weekend. Without them we couldn’t have done this today. Starting first on the road on Friday put us at a disadvantage. The rain helped a bit but we never gave up and we can share in one of the finest wins of our career. Leading both championships heading into the break gives us all the motivation we need for the second half of the season.”

Crew Notes: Paddon/Marshall (#6 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)

  • Fourth place represents crew’s best result of 2018 season so far
  • Highest finish in Sardinia since second place in 2015

Paddon said: “A difficult weekend for us, but a positive end to the rally for the team. We wanted more from this rally, but to take fourth place gives us important confidence for the coming events. Things didn’t really click from the first stages, and we weren’t able to replicate the positive feeling we had from shakedown. Still, it’s nice to finish this event for the first time in three years, and to score important points for the team in the manufacturers’ championship. We will look to build from here, and to try and take a few more risks. Congratulations to Thierry, Nicolas and the whole team for a fantastic victory.”

Crew Notes: Mikkelsen/Jæger (#4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)

  • Led rally on Friday morning before transmission trouble
  • Two consolation points for fourth place in the Power Stage

Mikkelsen said: “We gave it all we could in the Power Stage to try and salvage something from what has been a frustrating weekend. Since the last rally, we have found a much better feeling from inside the car but we haven’t had the results to match. On Friday morning, we could show the potential we have with some strong times and leading the rally. Unfortunately, the transmission problem ended our rally and we’ve spent the remaining stages just refining things and picking up useful information about the car on these tough gravel stages. It is all valuable learning but we leave Sardinia with a feeling of missed opportunity. We will regroup over the summer break and be ready for Finland. Finally, congratulations to Thierry and Nicolas on an outstanding win this weekend.”  

Sardinian success story

  • 11 stage wins for Hyundai Motorsport crews in Sardinia
  • Third victory of 2018 and tenth in team’s WRC history

Team Principal Michel Nandan commented: “I am completely delighted, as are all members of the team, with this incredible victory. It was truly a perfect win for Thierry and Nicolas. The battle with Ogier started on Saturday and the intensity of that only increased. I was on the edge of my seat all Sunday morning, and the Power Stage was a superb piece of entertainment for all fans. To take our third win of the season in such exhilarating style is the ideal way to head into the summer break. We have had a faultless operation all weekend, thanks to the hard work of our team on site and in Alzenau. Hayden and Seb have taken their best result of the season in fourth, while Andreas also picked up some points in the Power Stage. It was a memorable battle with Sébastien and M-Sport Ford which will undoubtedly go down in the WRC history books. We came here hoping to defend our lead of both championships but instead we have extended it – the perfect weekend!” 

Next rally

  • The FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) heads into its summer break with the next round, Rally Finland, taking place from 26-29 July
  • Round 8 of the 2018 season will be the last of four consecutive gravel events before moving back onto tarmac

Final Overall Classification – Rally Italia Sardegna

1

T. Neuville

N. Gilsoul

Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

3:29:18.7

2

S. Ogier

J. Ingrassia

Ford Fiesta WRC

+0.7

3

E. Lappi

J. Ferm

Toyota Yaris WRC

+1:56.3

4

H. Paddon

S. Marshall

Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

+2:55.2

5

M. Østberg

T. Eriksen

Citroën C3 WRC

+3:10.9

6

C. Breen

S. Martin

Citroën C3 WRC

+4:31.7

7

J.M. Latvala

M. Anttila

Toyota Yaris WRC

+11:22.1

8

O. Tänak

M. Järveoja

Toyota Yaris WRC

+12:38.2

9

J. Kopecky

P. Dresler

Škoda Fabia R5

+13:14.6

10

T. Suninen

M. Markkula

Ford Fiesta WRC

+15:30.4

New Zealand driver Hayden Paddon has scored an historic maiden FIA World Rally Championship victory at YPF Rally Argentina after fighting off world champion Sébastien Ogier in a thrilling finale to a scintillating last-day duel.

The pair was separated by just 2.6 sec ahead of the final legendary El Condor speed test, but Paddon stunned the Frenchman to hurtle down the rock-strewn mountain almost 12 sec faster and secure a 14.3 sec winning margin in his Hyundai i20 at the finish in Villa Carlos Paz on Sunday afternoon, local time. Paddon, with longtime co-driver John Kennard, became the first driver from New Zealand – or anywhere Down Under - to win a WRC round in the championship’s 43-year history. It crushed Volkswagen’s ambitions of s an unprecedented 13 consecutive victories and, for another year, Ogier’s personal goal of winning the only WRC event not in his trophy cabinet.

The win was one of the most popular in recent times for the hard-working Paddon, who is driving only his first full season for Hyundai Motorsport.

“I can’t believe it, I really didn’t think I stood a chance before the last stage after losing time to Ogier this morning,” said Paddon, who celebrated his 29th birthday the day before the start. I gave that last stage everything I had. Tight and twisty roads like El Condor aren’t my strength but I drove the stage of my life.”

While Paddon’s home supporters were jubilant, the win was welcomed also by fans in Australia, which will host the closing round of the 2016 WRC, Kennards Hire Rally Australia, on the New South Wales Coffs Coast on 17-20 November. 

 “This is a milestone for rallying in our part of the world and I’m sure everyone in the sport in Australia congratulates Hayden and John on their maiden WRC victory after many years’ building their experience and their support,” Rally Australia Clerk of Course Wayne Kenny said. They have a great record in Rally Australia, including as privateers winning the Pirelli Star Driver Shootout in 2009, the Production World Rally Championship in 2011 and for Hyundai, 6th in 2014 and 5th in 2015. Hayden has said in the past a win here would come close to a home victory; let’s hope they can do it next November!”

Paddon started the final leg with a 29.8 sec advantage after taking the lead on Saturday when Jari-Matti Latvala crashed. Gearchange glitches cost valuable seconds in the opening speed test before Ogier in a Volkswagen Polo R threw caution to the wind in the penultimate stage, eating into Paddon’s lead to set up a dramatic ending.

 “The last stage was incredibly rough,” Ogier said. "I had a clean drive but I didn’t dare take the maximum risk because there were big ruts. Well done to him, he did a great job on the last stage.”

Volkswagen teammate Andreas Mikkelsen completed the podium a further 50.9sec behind after surviving a spin in the foggy first pass through El Condor in the morning. However, he dropped out of the top three in the championship standings as Paddon vaulted into second. Dani Sordo finished 11.9sec further back in fourth in another Hyundai with Mads Østberg a distant fifth in a Ford Fiesta RS, despite going off the road on Sunday morning following a pace note mix-up. The top six in the four-day rally, which covered 364.68km of rough-road competition near Villa Carlos Paz, was completed in the third factory Hyundai by Thierry Neuville, who recovered well after losing several minutes on Friday with a faulty fuel connection.

The championship returns to Europe for Vodafone Rally de Portugal on 19 -22 May. The event will see the 2016 debut of an Australian team, when Scott Pedder and Dale Moscatt line up for the WRC2 category in a Skoda Fabia R5.

Results, YPF Rally Argentina (Rd 4 of 14);

  1. H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC)
  2. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +14.3 behind first
  3. A. Mikkelsen / A. Jaeger (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:05.2
  4. D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:17.1
  5. M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:56.7
  6. T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +9:29.5
  7. M. Ligato / R. Garcia (Citroën DS3 WRC) +9:39.2
  8. E. Camilli / B. Veillas (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +10:16.0
  9. H. Solberg / I. Minor (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +10:48.5
  10. N. Fuchs / F. Mussano (Škoda Fabia R5) +24:42.8

Nico Rosberg claimed his third Grand Prix win of the season at the Red Bull Ring after beating Lewis Hamilton away from the startline to reduce the championship lead to 10 points. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was never in the hunt for victory, and lost a dead-cert podium finish with another tardy pitstop. He battled back on terms with Williams's Felipe Massa, but couldn't find a way past in the closing stages.

Hamilton was already second when he received a 5 second penalty on time for crossing the white line at the pitlane exit. Rosberg pushed past Hamilton off the startline, with Vettel covering Massa for third with the pair getting very close to colliding on the run to Turn 1. Hamilton tailed Rosberg while exiting Turn 1, and drew alongside into Turn 2 but locked up, so Nico covered him. Hamilton made his move at Turn 3 also, with a similar outcome. Fernando Alonso’s McLaren became stuck on top of the nose of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari after a big accident on the exit of Turn 3, taking Alonso with him into the barrier.

Alonso’s sidepod got dangerous close to Kimi’s head and hands on the steering wheel but thankfully both were unhurt.

“I got some wheelspin and it suddenly went left,” reported Raikkonen.

 

Grosjean suffered a gearbox problem that caused him to run off track momentarily and retired, and Sainz was also forced out. Ericsson had an odd moment when his Sauber cut-out exiting the final corner on lap 22, but managed to restart his electronics and continue. McLaren had another double retirement, as Jenson Button was forced out soon after the safety car restart. “It’s been a pretty bad weekend for all of us,” rued Button.

Will Stevens was a first-lap retirement with an oil leak.