Returning to its summer-time slot, this season’s event will see the crews encounter some of the highest temperatures of the year. But that won’t be the only challenge awaiting the crews on what is one of the most unforgiving fixtures on the 2013 calendar. The stages might not be as abrasive as the previous round in Greece, but their narrow and technical nature means that even the smallest of mistakes are rarely excused.
However, based on the Italian island of Sardinia, the event provides one of the championship’s most picturesque settings. Beyond the glitz and glamour of the island retreat, rugged mountains, ancient forests and unspoiled rural terrain makes it ideal rallying territory. This year’s route remains largely unchanged and will once again incorporate a mix of rough and smooth gravel roads, jumps and water splashes – the spectacular ‘Micky’s Jump’ on the Monte Lerno stage providing one of the rally’s best-known vantage points.
Fresh from victory at Rally Aurskog/Høland – fifth round of the Norwegian Rally Championship – Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson will be full of confidence and looking to put their previous misfortunes well and truly behind them.
After leading his first WRC event in the opening phases of the Acropolis Rally, Østberg’s team mate, Evgeny Novikov, is another driver with a point to prove. Setting the fastest time on five of the Greek event’s speed tests, the Russian has proved that he is capable of performing at the head of the field.
Novikov also has good form in Sardinia: securing a creditable fifth place on his 2009 debut and claiming the second step of the podium on last year’s outing. Partnered by Austrian co-driver Ilka Minor – who navigated the Muscovite to his second-placed finish last year – the pairing will be looking for much of the same this week. In the Qatar World Rally Team, Thierry Neuville won’t let the success of his second podium of the year go to his head. Ever composed, the Belgian vows to adopt another cautious approach for this event – maximising the opportunity to make further strides behind the wheel of his Fiesta RS WRC.
Partnered by fellow Belgian Nicolas Gilsoul, the pairing will be back to competition sooner than some might imagine as they contest the Geko Ypres Rally (27 – 29 June) as a ‘VIP’ car with M-Sport's latest challenger, the Ford Fiesta R5. Indeed the young duo are the perfect candidates to showcase the speed and reliability of the all-new Fiesta – their knowledge of the specialist event sure to shine on the sixth round of the European Rally Championship.
It’s all change in the sister Qatar World Rally Team Fiesta as commitments in Qatar saw Nasser Al-Attiyah forced to forfeit his Rally Italia entry. Proactive in his support of talented youngsters, the Qatari saw it only right that his Fiesta RS WRC be offered to M-Sport’s 2012 FIA WRC Academy Cup Winner, Elfyn Evans; thus giving the Welshman his competitive debut in a World Rally Car.
Another driver with a mature head on his shoulders, Evans won’t squander the opportunity. This will be his debut at the Italian event – let alone behind the wheel of M-Sport’s top-specification Fiesta – and his first time with the Latin accent of Giovanni Bernacchini behind the notes. Given the obvious challenges, the Welshman aims to adopt a cautious approach to gain as much as he can from the experience. That said, Evans is a proven quick learner and a top-ten finish is certainly well within his ability.
Mads Østberg said:
“The rally we did in Norway [Rally Aurskog/Høland] was all about building our confidence and enjoying ourselves, and from that side of things, I think it was really good preparation for Sardinia. We’ve not had the best start to the season, so it was important to go to an event where there was no pressure and drive as fast as we could with no problems.
“We’ve done well here [in Sardinia] in the past and – like at all events this year – we want to be fighting for the podium. It’s an event that I really enjoy. It suits us [Jonas Andersson, co-driver, and I] and it suits the car so I know that we can fight for a good position. We just need to find a good rhythm and bring that same enjoyment that we had in Aurskog/Høland.
“It will be an intense event for sure. It’s a lot earlier in the year than usual so the heat will take its toll and the days are also very long with lots of stages, early mornings and late finishes. But we should be ok – we just need to ensure that we look after ourselves as well as the car! The stages are also very technical so you need to be very precise in your driving and make sure that the pacenotes are as detailed as they can be. Hopefully this could be our rally!”
Evgeny Novikov said:
“We’ve done well here in the past so I’ll be hoping to do well again this year. I think we proved in Greece that we can challenge at the top of the field. We set a good pace and won a lot of stages which is something we’ll be looking to build on in Sardinia.
“Of course this is another really challenging event. The stages can be quite slippery so it’s important to settle into a good rhythm from the very first stage. There can also be a lot of rocks on the side of the road that you need to look out for – it’s not so easy to recover from a mistake here!
“As always we will try our best. If you look at what happened last year, a lot of the front runners were caught out. Hopefully everything will come together for us as it did last year and we will be able to secure another good result for the team.”
Thierry Neuville said:
“This isn’t my favourite rally of the year. The stages are quite technical and very narrow which makes it difficult for the driver. You have very few chances to slide the car wide and if you make a mistake and do run wide, it can be costly. There can be a lot of stones on the line which you need to be aware of and a good set-up is very important if you are to challenge for the top times.
“After Sardinia, Nicolas [Gilsoul, co-driver] and I will be competing in Ypres with the [Ford] Fiesta R5 which I’m really looking forward to. We will be driving as a ‘VIP’ car so there won’t be so much pressure. It will just be about going there to have fun and prove how competitive – and reliable – the car is. It’s been a long time since we’ve driven in the Belgian Championship, so it will be great to show the [Fiesta] R5 off to the home fans.”
Elfyn Evans said:
“This is another absolutely fantastic opportunity for me and I want to say a huge thank-you to Nasser [Al-Attiyah] and Malcolm [Wilson] for considering me for the drive.
“It will be great to get back behind the wheel in competition, but it will certainly be a challenging event! This will be my first time in Sardinia, my first time in a WRC car and my first time with Giovanni [Bernacchini, co-driver]. But with the team behind me and Giovanni’s extensive experience, I know that I will be in capable hands.
“My aim for the event is just to enjoy it and gain further experience. I’m learning all the time, and if I can make it through all of the stages on this tricky event then I’ll be happy. The most important thing at the moment is to get as much competitive seat time as possible, and that will be my main goal this weekend.”
Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team