The 2005 FIA World Rally Championship returns to Europe next week when crews start the fifth round of the 16-event series, Rally Italia Sardinia. Previously hosted in the Italian Riviera town of Sanremo, last year the event moved to the ...
The 2005 FIA World Rally Championship returns to Europe next week when crews start the fifth round of the 16-event series, Rally Italia Sardinia. Previously hosted in the Italian Riviera town of Sanremo, last year the event moved to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia where sandy gravel tracks replaced twisty, asphalt stages. Commencing on Friday 29 April, it will be the first of four consecutive hot gravel rallies.
In 2005 Rally d'Italia undergoes another change as it moves from an autumn date to spring. Run in the spectacular mountain landscape of the north east of the island, the character of the rally will remain largely the same, featuring technical, medium width roads covered with fine, almost sandy, gravel. Weather conditions are expected to be mild, but with some stages taking crews to altitudes of more than 800 metres above sea level, some rain is likely.
The rally is again based around Olbia, in the north-east of the island, with the stages in the wild mountains to the west and south. But in an effort to use wider and faster roads, organisers have made sweeping changes and 78% of the route is new. Ten of the 17 stages are new and only one is broadly the same as 2004. The luxury resort of Porto Rotondo, on the beautiful Costa Smeralda coastline, will host the ceremonial start on Thursday evening and Sunday's finish. The rest of the event will revolve around a new service park in the heart of Olbia. The opening leg takes competitors south to the slopes of Monte Tepilora and Punta sa Donna and the natural park of Monte Olia. The bulk of the second day is located further west in the hills of Monte Lerno and is the longest at 144.01km. It includes two passes over the 38.77km Tandalo, the longest test of the rally. The final leg is all new, most of it based around the historic town of Tempio Pausania. All but one test are used twice and drivers will tackle 350.03km of stages in a route of 1192.28km.
Back in Europe after its successful trip to New Zealand, World Champions Citroën and Sebastien Loeb will aim for their third win of the season in Sardinia and the Italian round of the world rally Championship this weekend (April 28 - 1 May 2005), but despite a podium finish last year, the team is taking nothing for granted.
Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "In our chase for the championship, second place was sufficient last year," says Loeb. "This is just as well because at the time it didn't seem possible to do any better! Petter was unassailable. This year, we don't yet know what the profile of the rally is going to be. Following the general disappointment expressed by the drivers last year, the majority of the stages are new. We all hope the new roads will be good, and there apparently are some good roads in the region. But whatever they're like, we will give it our best effort. The Xsara has shown that it continues to progress and the new Michelin tyre is a valuable asset for us. I hope all that will enable us to be up there with the best of them."
Francois Duval / Stephane Prevot: "I wasn't a big fan of what we saw in 2004. Slippery stages aren't a problem. so long as you have room to slide and that wasn't the case with last year's narrow stages which had stones either side of the road. I was glad to hear that much of the route has been changed and I am curious to see what the organisers have found. After that, it's up to us to do our best. As in the opening rallies of the season, I hope our times will enable me to join in the fight for the podium and that all our work will pay off as it did in New Zealand."
Subaru will take a three-car team to Sardinia. The latest specification Impreza WRC2005's will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills), Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn MacNeall) and Stephane Sarrazin (co-driven by Denis Giraudet). After winning two of the first four rounds of the 2005 FIA WRC, Petter Solberg leads the 2005 drivers' series. Last year, he and Phil dominated the Italian event and were fastest on 13 of the rally's 19 stages to finish 2 minutes 7.9 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. Petter will be looking to achieve another strong podium finish on this year's event. Driving the second nominated Subaru car will be Australian, Chris Atkinson, while Frenchman Stephane Sarrazin will be seeking to gain experience at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza WRC2005 on his first WRC gravel event with the team.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: New Zealand was a good rally for us and, although we struggled a little on the second pass through the stages, I'm pleased with the final result. Sardinia should be a very good event and I think we have a strong chance of winning it if everything works out well. It's a different rally to New Zealand as it's more narrow and twisty and that, along with the temperatures, is better for the tyres. I'll be running first on the road again, but that's the price you pay for leading the championship so I'm not complaining!
Chris Atkinson/Glen Macneall: "It was good to get a couple of stage wins in New Zealand this early on in my WRC career. Although we didn't maintain the speed all weekend, I think we learned a lot and made some changes that will help us in the future. The stages in Sardinia are a lot slower and narrower than those in New Zealand and that means it'll be even more important not to make mistakes. Narrower stages mean it can be easier to go off the driving line, hit a rock and take a wheel off. But it's a rally where Petter and the team worked well last year, so that's promising. We're aiming to run at a consistent pace all weekend and, if we can reach the same speed that we did on the first day in New Zealand, to keep that up all weekend. That way the end result could be good. Between rallies we're evaluating lessons that we've learned on each event and using that information to move forward before the start of the next, it's going well."
Stephane Sarrazin/Denis Giraudet : "I've spent some time testing the car on gravel and the feeling is very good. It was my first time on a loose surface and I'm happy with what we've achieved in a short time. It's good grip on gravel - better than I thought, and things seem positive. The driving style is only slightly different to tarmac, so I'm not modifying things too much. I'm just thinking about starting the recce next week and am planning to give my maximum. It's the first gravel rally for me so I'm going to be concentrating on learning, progressing and getting experience. I have a very good car, but it's all still very new to me."
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen and team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Mozny face a steep learning curve as Sardinia's gravel roads signal the FIA World Rally Championship's return to Europe after two flyaway rounds. However, their lack of experience there should not prove a great handicap as organisers of the Rally Italia Sardinia (28 April - 1 May) have introduced major changes to the route following last year's inaugural event.
Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: Gardemeister lies equal fourth in the drivers' standings in his Castrol-backed Focus RS after four of the 16 rounds. The Finn has scored on all rounds to date but admits he doesn't know what to expect of the upcoming event. "My experience there is small," he said. "I learned something about the roads last year when I came back to do SupeRally on the second day, but I had problems so the benefits weren't great. If you drive special stages in the same area then it gives a feeling for their characteristics, but it's never the same as driving the exact roads. "There are so many new stages this year that nobody is going to have a big advantage. Last year's roads were narrow with a lot of stones on the edge. I think this year's rally will be faster but we won't really know until we practise the stages on Tuesday and Wednesday," he added.
Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: Kresta's confidence was knocked by his pre-event crash in New Zealand but the 28-year-old Czech quickly overcame that problem in testing. "I drove cautiously during the first morning but I soon found a good feeling with the Focus and I've had three days of good work which have left me feeling confident. I've wiped the crash from my memory," he said. "I spent one day trying different suspension set-ups, one day working with differential settings and one day testing Michelin's tyres. I covered 72km on one set of tyres with no problems which is encouraging for the rally. It's difficult to know what the best settings are because I've never driven here, but I feel that I now have an understanding of the kind of roads I can expect." "As it's a new rally to me, my aim will be to learn about the stages. I will take no risks and concentrate on improving my knowledge. The more experience I can get of the stages, the more it will benefit me for the future, but I'm still keen to collect points for BP-Ford," he added.
Round 5 of the 2005 World Rally Championship's sixteen qualifying events takes crews to Sardinia for the first in a sequence of four rough gravel events which all take place in Mediterranean rim countries. Marcus Gronholm and Markko Martin go into the first of these encounters in a strong position in the Drivers' championship, while Peugeot tops the current Manufacturers' standings. The entire team will be looking to profit from the coming rounds to continue building on its recent progress. The first part of the 2005 season has been quite positive for Peugeot Sport. With a 12-point advantage over Citroën and a gap of 15 points over Subaru, the French squad today enjoys a useful lead in the provisional Manufacturers' championship standings. Its objective to add a fifth world crown to its record before focusing its sporting activities in other areas from 2006 would therefore appear to be a realistic goal.
Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: "I was delighted to come away from New Zealand with more valuable points, although I was a little disappointed of course not to have won there again. We will be able to count on our car's excellent reliability. We simply lacked a little 'plus' in New Zealand to be able to fight for victory. I am looking forward to seeing how competitive we will be in Italy where the stages will be very different to what we found in New Zealand. We will have done more work on the car since then too."
Markko Martin/Michael Park: "The rally takes place at a different time of year now and some of the stages are new. We will see how it goes when we get there. One thing is certain: Pirelli tyres were competitive last year and that's encouraging. Personally, I will be out to score as many points as possible of course while continuing to adapt the car's set-up to my driving style. I changed the way I drove on the final day in New Zealand and that was a little better. Our aim is to continue making progress and to defend as best we can the positions we and the team currently hold in the two championships."
After the long haul to Mexico and New Zealand, the FIA World Rally Championship returns to Europe for the first of four events hosted in the Mediterranean. Rally Italia is hosted on the diverse south-westerly island of Sardinia, immediately south of Corsica where the teams will head for the 14th round of the series.
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "The roads there are not so bad and there are many spectators, which gives the rally a good atmosphere. We've had a long test in Spain since New Zealand, which was okay, but we had heavy rain which loses you time, some ideas and how to compare things. I couldn't believe it; of the three gravel tests I have done it has rained each time! But, we found some ideas and solutions on the damper side and there is more coming up for the summer".
Gigi Galli/Guido D'Amore: "As always I need to work out my strategy with the team, but I don't think things really change especially as this rally is going to be tough this year", said Gigi of his home event. "But, if I am honest, my dream is to get to the finish inside the top five; I want to do this for everyone, but particularly my people: the Italians, my fans and the passion they have for our sport". "The first two days of the rally will be particularly tough, and long, and I think we have to be very careful. Many crews had problems last year and I think it's important to concentrate, take care and understand what is happening around us, as well as to the car. I know the event has changed a lot since last year and hopefully the stages will be faster, but the weather will be a very difficult thing. At this time it's easy to find bad weather in Sardinia and that will add something else to the event. But, I am ready to fight, improve the car and make a good result, with Guido, for the team and especially for Italy".
Rallye d'Italia-Sardinia (April 28-May 2) again sees the Fabia WRC 05 being driven by Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha and Janne Tuohino/Mikko Markkula. Armin Schwarz led the Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team here last year although a severe dose of 'flu ensured that it was not a happy experience for the German driver. Janne Tuohino is making his Sardinia debut and is looking forward to this event.
Janne Tuohino/Mikko Markkula: "Since New Zealand we had a good test in Sardinia, quite close to Olbia, and I did about 300kms which was important for me to learn about this soft and sandy surface. I have never done this event before but the roads are quite narrow and technical which is good for my driving style. I used to be quite sideways which was good for the fans but not for the times! It certainly wouldn't work here."
Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: "We discovered last year that this new event wasn't like the old Sardinia Rally. The roads are narrow and twisty with a lot of loose gravel on the surface. But running the rally earlier in the year might make a big difference. We didn't have good weather in the pre-rally test so maybe this will be the first wet event of the season. Either way it is important to try and be fast from the start."