“I love to hate you…” or day 1 of Rally d’Italia

This is what rally is all about, right here, the day one of Rally d’Italia with all those retirements, crashes, broken cars on one hand and splendid drives, brave recoveries, superb repairs and promising fights on the other. I have no problem hating the sport through and through when things like Mikko Hirvonen’s fire happen, but it’s not a genuine hate, it’s a sigh of disappointment and the realization that yes, in this sport you sometimes really are helpless against whatever forces decided to ignite Mikko’s car. It’s the nature of the beast, the way things are in this wonderful test of man and machine. You cannot really hate it, instead, you must learn to cherish the ups and downs, highs and lows, bitter moments and sweet ones – it’s why we love this thing called WRC so much. I can, however, hate the fact that we lost Mikko, Juho Hanninen, Kris Meeke and Thierry Neuville pretty early in the event, but yeah…

Things were looking so damn good for a while! Volkswagens were struggling nicely, losing chunks of time sweeping the road, and it was Hyundai on top of the classification early today. Perhaps Sauron did not intend for Smeagol to find and keep The One Ring, but I think Hanninen’s early lead today was even more unexpected. Juho and Thierry were indeed fast and in control of things, partly because of the fact that Sebastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala were busy sweeping the stages, and partly because Hyundai’s pace keeps improving. Sadly, that did not last. Juho rolled his car and retired with a properly demolished i20 WRC and Thierry lost 20+ minutes trying to fix his machine, dropping like a brick down the order, far far away from podium. After his amazing podium finish in Argentina, Kris Meeke was looking forward to Sardinia for another chance to combine his newly developed “I’m going to take things more steady now” approach and his natural speed and pace. Nope, that also failed to materialize because Kris’ Citroën DS3 WRC broke down.

What else could poor Volkswagen Motorsport do at this point other than to accept the gifts and embrace the lead of the event. From sweepers to leaders, and they almost went into defensive mode when team boss Jost Capito exclaimed: “It’s not our fault, really it isn’t! Others are making these mistakes and breaking down.” Soon, they’ll start hating all this winning and staying on the road. With Sebastien Ogier being Sebastien Ogier and the new and recalibrated Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen is unstoppable. No, I won’t forget Andreas Mikkelsen who, with a new/old co-driver Ola Floene, is surely going to push hard for 3rd tomorrow.

That third is, however, bravely defended by Mads Ostberg, the only remaining Citroën Racing driver. Mads is going to feel the pressure tomorrow, no doubt, but tomorrow is maybe not the best day to exert too much pressure, because the stages are very long and going through 40 or 50 kilometers with damaged car is maybe not worth it. Keep it on the road Mads. Fifth place, well, well, well… Robert Kubica, also not without a chance for a better finish, but even more interested, I think, in enduring the grueling terrain and finishing second event in a row safely and with points in hand.

Rally, got to love it!