The 2009 iteration of Rally Italy was a highly contentious one with running order tactics at the fore. But it was also an event that, with the benefit of hindsight, can be viewed as a criminally wasted opportunity by the Ford team.
With five of Friday’s six stages completed, Ford’s Latvala headed Sébastien Loeb by 17.2s with Ford team-mate Mikko Hirvonen another 5.3s in arrears. Loeb and Hirvonen – the top two in the championship – both slowed on the leg’s final test with Loeb stationary for a whopping 23s so as not to start Saturday’s stages first on the road.
But Hirvonen made a mess of his calculations, crawling in between the yellow boards and the flying finish – where you’re not allowed to come to a dead stop – and ended the day 3s ahead of Loeb when he would have benefited from dropping behind or extending the gap but taking the hit of running earlier on the road.
That’s what Latvala did. Ford’s number two was given a 39.8s advantage that was slowly eroded but not dramatically. He ended Saturday 9.9s ahead of his team-mate with Loeb down in fifth after a puncture and then a time penalty for co-driver Daniel Elena removing his seat belts when the car was still moving.
Loeb climbed back past Evgeny Novikov to finish fourth but there were no team orders at Ford to gift Hirvonen a win. Latvala duly outpaced Hirvonen to claim his second career victory. The wonders of hindsight are of course precarious, but with Petter Solberg’s privateer Citroën almost two minutes down, Ford could have easily switched the places but that wasn’t its style.
Ultimately though, Hirvonen would lose the 2009 championship by just one point and had he won in Sardinia, he’d have won by one point.
Ogier loses to Neuville in a thrilling finish, and was almost excluded!
Ever since the new technical regulations were introduced in 2017, there have been multiple battles between Ogier and Neuville. But few come close to the finish of Rally Italy in 2018, which on the tension stakes, ranks higher than perhaps any other WRC round in history. It was palpable.
M-Sport driver Ogier inherited the lead on Friday when Mikkelsen’s gearbox broke and opened up a decent lead over Neuville, who rearranged the rear of his i20 Coupe WRC with a wild moment. Tänak exited the contest after breaking his Toyota’s radiator over a jump.
The Hyundai-driving Belgian hit back on Saturday to diminish his deficit to Ogier from 18.9s to 3.9s with just Sunday’s four stages remaining after Ogier “struggled with the car” at points. The fight was on.
Predicting who would win was tough, as Neuville had become something of a final stage specialist having stolen victory from Elfyn Evans on Rally Argentina 2017 but Ogier too was renowned for his blistering speed when it mattered.
As it turned out, it was Ogier that was rattled with Neuville in the ascendancy. Neuville won SS17, 18 and 19 – but only just – to head into the powerstage a mere 0.8s behind Ogier. But the drama wasn’t done there.
Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia forgot to collect their timecards back from the stage-end marshal on the penultimate stage. Tänak and his co-driver Martin Järveoja collected them on Ogier’s behalf and brought them to the regroup so he was still in the rally, but it wasn’t exactly ideal prep for a final stage shoot-out.
Neuville pounced. Unhappy that Ogier wasn’t excluded as he didn’t carry his own timecards, he decided to let his driving do the talking and stormed to the rally win by 0.7s. It was a proper alpha moment for Neuville and one of the most impressive of his 13 career wins to date.
This content was originally published here.