Abarth driver Anton Alen led during the opening stages of the Costa Smeralda Rally this weekend, a round of the Italian Rally Championship, but was forced to retire with a mechanical failure while fighting for victory.
Alen and co-driver Timo Alanne were bolstering the Abarth
factory team's assault on the latest all-gravel round of the Italian Championship, based in Porto Cervo on the island of Sardinia.
After the opening stage this morning, Alen moved into the lead with a fastest stage time. The 26-year-old Finn remained in contention for the win, setting another fastest time on SS5, before encountering problems on the seventh stage of the event - with just three stages left to go before the finish this evening.
A ball joint on the left-front suspension of his Grande Punto S2000 sheared, leaving the car immobile. Shortly beforehand, Alen had been just two seconds off the lead held by experienced Peugeot Italia driver Paolo Andreucci.
"The suspension joint just broke suddenly: we certainly did not hit anything and there was no real warning," said a disappointed Alen afterwards. "I suddenly felt the front of the car become loose in the middle of the stage, like a snake, and unfortunately it soon became clear that we were going no further. What happened was a real shame as my feeling with the car was good and I think we could have had a nice result. We enjoyed a really great battle with Andreucci, even though many of the stages were quite rough after being re-used.
Alen piloted the same Grande Punto that he drove to second in class and 12th overall on the world-famous Rally Finland in August, setting two fastest times on the Sardinian event. The Finn is now concentrating on his remaining programme for the year, which will culminate with the all-gravel Scottish Rally in November: the final round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
"I think that the conditions we will find in Scotland should be quite different to what we experienced in Sardinia," said Alen. "But it's always good to have more time in the car and this has been an extremely valuable opportunity to do some useful work for the future. I think we have demonstrated again that we have a competitive package, so now I look forward to our next event."
Anton Alen's famous father, Markku, won the Costa Smeralda Rally in 1981 at the wheel of a Fiat 131 Abarth and again in 1988 with a Lancia Delta Integrale. Other former winners of the Italian event have included Attilio Bettega, Henri Toivonen, Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol.