Sebastien Ogier doubled his Rally Italia Sardegna lead on Friday afternoon but all eyes have been on both a fascinating battle for second place and amateur video of Evgeny Novikov’s violent exit from the event.
Heading back to the main service area in the eastern port of Olbia, World Rally Championship points leader had Ogier moved 40 seconds clear of his rivals in his VW Polo R ahead of two night-time stages.
Neuville was in possibly the best form of his WRC career so far with the fastest time on two of the afternoon’s three stages to reach service less than five seconds behind Hirvonen.
But the day’s biggest drama was the enormous crash that ended Evgeny Novikov’s rally on this morning’s second stage. Not until footage of the accident – shot by fans – appeared on the internet did it become clear just how terrifying an impact it had been.
Russian Novikov lost control of his M-Sport Ford Fiesta at high speed on a right-hand bend. The sideways car then demolished a stone wall before coming to rest in its roof about 50 metres away.
The video shows Novikov and Austrian co-driver Ilka Minor clambering from the battered car, luckily without injury. So severe was the damage to the Fiesta that the team has announced there is no chance of making repairs in time for it to rejoin the event under Rally 2 rules on Saturday.
It’s little wonder that one spectator can be heard crying ‘Mamma-mia!’ when he lays eyes on the wreckage.
Novikov had gone into the rally as one of the favourites for victory having led the previous round in Greece.
Elsewhere VW duo Andreas Mikkelsen (hampered by an early technical glitch) and Jari-Matti Latvala were in sixth and seventh places. Since losing close to two minutes with a puncture on the morning’s first stage, Latvala has effectively since matched team-mate Ogier’s pace giving us a glimpse of what might have been…
Former Formula One star Robert Kubica continued to lead the WRC2 category in his Citroen after out-running his rivals on all three of the afternoon’s stages. If the Pole maintains his performance he will make it back-to-back wins in WRC2 after his victory in the class in Greece.