The halfway point of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship sees the sport’s top competitors head to Italy for the 15th edition of Rally Italia Sardegna, the country’s WRC event of record for all but one year since 2004. Correction: most of the sport’s top competitors will be there, after Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team unceremoniously sacked Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle after a dramatic crash last month in Portugal, and has chosen to pare down to two cars for this event.
Sardegna represents the last event before WRC’s month-plus midseason pause, as the series won’t return to action again until Rally Finland at the end of July. With that in mind, it’ll be extra important for the sport’s top teams to head into the break with maximum points and momentum coming out of this event. Be sure to keep an eye on these three teams to shoot for just that over the weekend:
#5 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul :: Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT :: Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
A disastrous Vodafone Rally de Portugal for Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia enabled Neuville and Gilsoul to not only retake the points lead, but also open up a 19-point advantage by taking their second victory of the season. After three runner-up championship finishes in the last five years, the Belgian pair are certainly due for their first WRC title; keeping up their past form at this event, with one win and four podiums in the past five years, would be hugely helpful on that front going into the midseason break.
#8 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja :: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT :: Toyota Yaris WRC
The defending winners of this event, Tänak and Järveoja will attempt to go back to back in Italy after taking the 2017 event while still racing for M-Sport. They’ve already taken three podiums with Toyota, including runner-up results in Monte Carlo and at Tour de Corse, and their first victory of the season at Rally Argentina. Best of the rest when you subtract Neuville and Ogier, another podium (plus some bad luck for the leaders) might contribute to a three-way title fight in the second half of the schedule.
#11 Craig Breen/Scott Martin :: Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT :: Citroen C3 WRC
With Meeke and Nagle gone, Citroen pares back down to two cars once again in Italy. Both championships are, at this point, essentially a lost cause, but Breen and Martin now have the chance to establish themselves as a proper lead crew for this team despite having been removed from the car for two races in favor of Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena. Breen’s second place at Rally Sweden remains the team’s best finish so far in 2018—but it’ll be cause for celebration if he can improve on it.