Mads Østberg isn’t new to being at the center of the drama on gravel rallies – he did after all take his sole World Rally Championship win on Rally Portugal in 2012 – but few days have been as testing from start to finish as Saturday on Rally Italy.
The 33-year-old started the day as leader of the WRC2 class, and ended it one place higher in the overall leaderboard in sixth but with very oily hands and a Citroën C3 Rally2 that had attempted to abandon him at the side of the road several times and was now second in WRC2.
“It’s been a very complicated day for sure but I’ve done my absolute best all day and Torstein [Eriksen, co-driver] all day, we have worked every minute for the full day,” Østberg explained to DirtFish.
I was pushing like a madman to find some time. It feels like one of the most crazy days I've ever hadMads Østberg
“We had some difficulties from the beginning of the first stage today where we basically lost the full plate on the rear, all the protection came off on the rear and that’s why we had the issue with the brake pipe and probably also with the wishbone so it just went on from there and it was a massive rush in service and we were not able to fix everything properly.”
DirtFish managed to film the TRT World Rally Team driver as he attempted repairs to the car brake pipe failure following the second stage of the day. If you think Østberg drives fast, then wait until you see him repairing his brakes against the clock and coated in gravel dust.
“We have tried between every stage just to handle it and make sure we will get through,” Østberg added. “At the same time I was pushing like a madman to find some time. It feels like one of the most crazy days I’ve ever had.”
Checking into time control six minutes late before service copped Østberg a one-minute penalty that put him behind Hyundai’s Jari Huttunen in the WRC2 lead battle and meant he couldn’t take it easy, even though the C3 was still in a state that needed cautious driving.
“I think it’s been a good day for me as a driver as well to be honest,” Østberg said.
“I think that’s the pace we have to play with here on this rally but I decided since the beginning of the rally to hold back, to be cautious and that was my approach. Like I said yesterday I was pushing when I was really comfortable and was sure nothing’s going to happen, and we just slowly wanted to pull away from the others and deal with the rally as it is.
“But it turned out to be too rough anyway and we had some issues then after that I just left all the ideas and plans behind and went flat out.”
He closed in on Huttunen from 35 seconds behind and goes into the final day 2.7s off his rival, but says “I don’t feel safe” still needing to chase.
“We need to probably gather all the parts in the truck and try to make the best of what we have left and just tighten all the bolts and go for it. I think that’s the only thing we can do.”
It sounds like Østberg’s Sunday will be just as on-edge, but he’s now also fighting for fifth place and his best WRC result since his 2018 Rally Australia podium.
That was a crazy rally too in the C3’s difficult-to-drive World Rally Car counterpart, but of course nothing compares to the unexpected glory of Portugal 2012 and his victory with Ford satellite team Adapta.
At least this time he might be able to celebrate victory on the final stage.