At Rally Italia Sardegna, the final rally of the first half of the 2018 season, the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT gauge their current level of performance and identify areas to improve on for the future
The island of Sardinia is one of Italy’s leading resorts. Large numbers of tourists flock to the island from Italy and overseas seeking its sunshine. The Rally Italia Sardegna service park is located in Alghero, a health resort in the island’s north-eastern region popular for its blue skies and seas. However, in the first half of the second week of June—the week of the rally—the rain fell continuously as the weather took a turn for the worse. For this reason, the gravel stages on both Day One and Day Two of the rally took place mostly in wet conditions.
Latvala seeks to make a full recovery and begins the rally with the third fastest time
Images of the Rally Italia Sardegna typically feature rally cars raising clouds of dust; on Day Two, however, the falling rain meant that much of the road surface was covered with mud, and the resulting conditions were significantly different to normal. Jari-Matti Latvala in the No.7 Yaris WRC, who finished Day Two in third place overall, commented: “As far as I can remember, it hasn’t rained at this rally for about 10 years. The course conditions were full of mud just like Rally GB in the U.K. than Sardegna, and it made things difficult.”
Involved in several accidents, Latvala had been on a poor run of form over the last few rallies. Yet, as a former winner, he approached Rally Italia Sardegna determined to change his fortunes. During the recce (an abbreviation of “reconnaissance,” where drivers check out the courses before the start of the rally), the Finn checked the stage conditions with greater care than usual. In particular, he made a point of alighting from the car to check any places where there were large rocks, and investigated in detail whether stones that were lodged in the road surface might potentially be dug up during the rally itself. In this way, Latvala prepared for the rally as best he could: “I even made changes to my driving style, which is quite aggressive, and, as far as possible, took care to race in such a way that the car wouldn’t incur damage.” The Finn continued to drive steadily on Day Two, and demonstrated his speed by recording the fastest time on SS9, the final stage of the day.
Tänak, in third place overall, is struck by unforeseen trouble
Following the disappointment of the previous Rally de Portugal, when he was forced to retire, Ott Tänak in the No.8 Yaris WRC set the best time of SS4, and so extended his record of setting at least one fastest time in every rally since the start of the season. Going into SS9, the final stage of Day Two, Tänak was in third place overall, just 5.7 seconds behind second place. However, the front section of his car hit the ground hard when landing a jump, and the car’s cooling system was damaged by the impact. Tänak immediately turned off the engine in order to prevent it from sustaining damage, but there was nothing he could do to avoid retiring in sight of the finish. Tänak had completed the jump in question three times during shakedown testing and also cleared it without issue during the first morning run on Day One; in the afternoon stage, he approached and took the jump in exactly the same manner, but for some reason incurred damage to the front of his Yaris WRC. The team will have to investigate the cause of the damage in greater detail, but there appears to be a large element of misfortune about the accident.
Tänak’s car was taken to the service park, and its engine was removed for inspection. Computer data showed that the engine itself was damage-free; however, the mechanics undertook significant repairs by replacing any auxiliary equipment that had potentially been damaged with new parts. In an extremely short space of time, the team remounted the engine in the bonnet, and the No.8 Yaris WRC was brought back to life. While he was no longer in the running for victory, Tänak now had an opportunity to secure points under Rally 2 regulations. The Estonian began Day Three full of gratitude for his team’s mechanics.
Lappi loses time due to a slow puncture
Last year, Esapekka Lappi secured fourth overall in his first ever Rally Italia Sardegna in a World Rally Car. On SS2, the first rally of Day Two, Lappi was the victim of a slow puncture to his No.9 Yaris WRC. He replaced his tire after completing the stage, but the spare tire he was carrying was a hard compound suited to dry surfaces. Since the surfaces on Day Two were mostly wet, a softer tire would have been more effective. For this reason, Lappi was unable to drive as fast as he wanted and dropped to tenth overall. SS6 was the first stage of the afternoon after the midday service park, and here Lappi recorded the second fastest time. He gradually increased his pace, and on SS9, the final stage of the day, he set the second fastest time after teammate Latvala to improve his position to fourth overall.
Latvala and Lappi battle for third in the overall standings
At the end of Day Two, the gap between Latvala in third and Lappi in fourth overall was just 4.4 seconds. Both drivers were in a position to challenge the top of the leaderboard and, as a result, they engaged in a fierce fight over the course of Day Three. SS10 was the first stage of the day and Lappi managed to capitalize on Latvala’s relative lack of pace to cut the gap to just 0.9 seconds. On SS10, however, the gap again widened to six seconds, after which followed a clean fight of the highest quality. Latvala recorded the second fastest time on SS12, then Lappi went fastest of all on SS13. Even Tänak, who had rejoined the rally, set the best time on SS10 as all the Yaris WRC rally cars demonstrated outstanding performance.
After completing SS16, the final stage of Day Three, Latvala’s Yaris WRC suffered an unexpected problem with its alternator. As the car was returning to the service park via the liaison section, the battery voltage dropped and the car was unable to move. Latvala and his co-driver Miikka Anttila did everything they could to resolve the problem themselves but, despite their superb engineering capabilities, they were unable to repair the car and had to retire for the day. Latvala had driven steadily with the aim of celebrating Anttila’s landmark of 200th WRC rally on the podium but, unfortunately, his good intentions were undermined on the road section.
Lappi secures his first podium finish of the season
As a consequence of Latvala’s retirement, Lappi rose to third overall. Since there were significant time gaps to both second and fourth places, the Finn took few risks on Day Four and, instead, made sure he guided his car safely through to the finish. Driving with absolute control, Lappi completed the day’s four stages to secure third position overall. This was his first podium of the season—in fact, it was his first podium since his inaugural WRC victory at last year’s Rally Finland. Lappi’s goal had bettered his fourth-place finish from 2017. While he was pleased to have achieved this, he vowed to improve further: “I am of course delighted to have finished in third place. However, there was a large gap to first and second, and I will have to raise my performance to another level if I want to compete with them at this rally.”
Seeking superior performance and reliability, the team continues to make improvements
At Rally Italia Sardegna, Lappi took third place, Latvala—who rejoined the rally on Day Four—finished seventh, and Tänak was ninth. All three Yaris WRC rally cars finished the rally and secured championship points. However, the team’s goal was to win, and so the result was not entirely satisfactory. Chief Engineer Tom Fowler summarized the rally, which marked the end of the first half of the season, in the following manner: “We implemented solutions to some of the problems that arose in Portugal, and we were able to verify their success. However, we also identified new problems. I think we were slightly unfortunate at this rally, but the team will do everything in its power to ensure that the same problems do not occur again.”
From both a performance and a reliability standpoint, the Yaris WRC still has a great deal of potential for improvement: There is no final goal in the development of the car. The team understands that, just like a living being, the more they work on the car the better it will become. Up next is Rally Finland, Round Eight of the World Rally Championship and the home rally of the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team. Lappi won the rally in 2017, with Juho Hänninen third, as the team recorded its best result of the season. The team is seeking to better last season’s result and, to this end, it will continue to develop the Yaris WRC over the course of the six-week summer break with the goal of further improving its performance.
|1||Thierry Neuville||Nicolas Gilsoul||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||3h29m18.7s|
|2||Sebastien Ogier||Julien Ingrassia||Ford Fiesta WRC||+0.7s|
|3||Esapekka Lappi||Janne Ferm||Toyota Yaris WRC||+1m56.3s|
|4||Hayden Paddon||Seb Marshall||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+2m55.2s|
|5||Mads Ostberg||Torstein Eriksen||Citroen C3 WRC||+3m10.9s|
|6||Craig Breen||Scott Martin||Citroen C3 WRC||+4m31.7s|
|7||Jari-Matti Latvala||Miikka Anttila||Toyota Yaris WRC||+11m22.1s|
|8||Jan Kopecky||Pavel Dresler||Skoda Fabia R5||+13m14.6s|
|9||Ott Tänak||Martin Järveoja||Toyota Yaris WRC||+13m18.2s|
|10||Teemu Suninen||Mikko Markkula||Ford Fiesta WRC||+15m30.4s|