The three Volkswagen teams of Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila, Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia and Andreas Mikkelsen/Mikko Markkula will line up in the Polo R WRC at the seventh race of the season.
Full throttle into the second half of the season: when Volkswagen takes on the Rally Italy in Sardinia from 20th to 22nd June, it will be facing the most compact round of the 2013 FIA World Rally Championship.
Each of the works pairs has been preparing for the Rally Italy with a number of tests on Sardinia’s gravel roads in the 315-hp four wheel-drive car from Wolfsburg. The goal for the Volkswagen drivers is crystal clear: Jari-Matti Latvala, who recently claimed his first win for Volkswagen in Greece, championship leader Sébastien Ogier, who already has four victories under his belt this season, and Andreas Mikkelsen, who won three of the 14 special stages to finish fourth overall at the latest round of the WRC, have their sights set firmly on victory.
Compact but demanding: rallying at its best in the space of just two days
The Rally Italy in Sardinia made its first appearance in the World Rally Championship nine years ago. Since then, towns like Alà dei Sardi, Buddosò, Pattada and the region around Sassari have established themselves as true WRC icons. In 2013, the drivers and teams will face a particularly compact schedule: the special stages will be held on just two days – Friday and Saturday. Each day will feature four special stages, all of which will be run twice. How to sum up the character of the Rally Italy, which takes place between the Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast) and the island’s harsh interior? High-speed passages, winding sections, spectacular water crossings and a number of formidable jumps. One of the best-known spectator points on the Rally Italy is “Micky’s Jump” on the “Monte Lerno” special stage. About eight kilometres into the stage, the World Rally Cars arrive at this well-known point, at which they are faced with a sudden dip during a quick left-hander. The special stage ends with a difficult descent, during which the brakes are put to the test. Another highlight of the Rally Italy is the most southerly special stage, on which the landscape is as spectacular as the driving. Cork trees line the ever-changing gravel roads on the “Coiluna–Loelle” special stage, which features a bit of everything the Mediterranean island has to offer rally drivers – from narrow, winding streets to wide, flowing roads. This special stage also boasts a breath-taking jump. New to the itinerary is a night stage in Gallura on Friday evening, which promises to provide thrilling rally action in the dark.
Strategy with the overall standings in mind: sights set on victory, but not at all costs
As the season reaches its halfway point – six rounds of the WRC down, a further six to go after Italy – the three Volkswagen crews line up with clear goals. “We should be able to challenge for victory again, but not at all costs. It is vital to come away with as many points as possible, and to tighten our grip on the top spots in the overall standings,” says Jost Capito. The rally in Sardinia may not be as extreme as the last round in Greece, but the tricky gravel roads must be attacked with due care in order to avoid putting too much strain on the car and tyres. “Here too, the key is to find the right balance between the desire to attack and a cautious pace to suit the situation in hand. Our three teams have achieved this very well so far,” added Capito.
Back on the big stage – where it all began for the Polo R WRC
Preparations for the second half of the season: testing in Sardinia
The Volkswagen works team has been hard at work testing in preparation for the Rally Italy in Sardinia. Two weeks before the start in Olbia, the three driver/co-driver pairings of Latvala/Anttila, Ogier/Ingrassia and Mikkelsen/Markkula each spent a day working on the set-up of the Polo R WRC. The main focus was on the differential set-up.
Quotes ahead of the Rally Italy
Jari-Matti Latvala, Polo R WRC #7
“I like the Rally Italy. It has a few very quick stages. You pass very close to rocks and trees at high speed, so you have to be really accurate. The ground is actually relatively hard and stony, but is normally covered by a thick layer of sand. For this reason, the grip is not perfect and the stages become very slippery. As such, it is not easy to find a good set-up. However, I think we found a good basis in Greece. I hope I can be up there challenging for victory again at other rallies this year. However, our main goal is to score as many points as possible in the Manufacturers’ Championship. The most important thing is to be consistent and quick over the remainder of the season.”
Sébastien Ogier, Polo R WRC #8
“Compared to Greece, the Rally Italy could well be a bit easier on the car. The ground is sandy in parts, so very soft. The heat will play a key role at this rally, as Sardinia is usually very warm at the end of June. Given the high temperatures, we will probably go with the hard compound. However, we are also aware that the softer variant generally works better on a sandy surface. It will be all about finding the right compromise to suit the conditions we actually face when we get there. One thing is clear: after the Rally Greece, which was not particularly easy for us, we want to get back on the front foot in Sardinia.”
Andreas Mikkelsen, Polo R WRC #9
“I had an excellent weekend in Greece. To win three special stages and pick up a point on the Power Stage is a very good result – fourth place is my best finish so far in the WRC. I just want to continue as I have been doing so far. We have improved consistently since making our debut in the Polo R WRC in Portugal. As such, I am really looking forward to Sardinia. You can attack more at the Rally Italy than in Greece, as the material is not subjected to such great strain. We have also taken another step forwards in terms of the set-up, thanks to the tests ahead of the Rally Italy, during which we primarily worked on the differential.”