WRC

Rallye Sanremo: Skoda preview

The Škoda Fabia WRC will get its first taste of traditional European mountain roads on the Sanremo Rally from October 2-5. The all-new Fabia WRC, Škoda Motorsport’s most sophisticated rally car to date, made its debut on Germany’s Rallye ...

The Škoda Fabia WRC will get its first taste of traditional European mountain roads on the Sanremo Rally from October 2-5. The all-new Fabia WRC, Škoda Motorsport’s most sophisticated rally car to date, made its debut on Germany’s Rallye Deutschland in July but the sinuous asphalt stages of Italy will provide an entirely different challenge.

The 11th round of the World Rally Championship takes place high up in the mountains around the Italian coastal town of Sanremo. Conditions are notoriously unpredictable, with rain, wind and fog frequently making the twisty stages even more challenging. This year’s Sanremo Rally will be a historic occasion, as Italy’s round of the World Rally Championship is set to change venue next season.

Škoda Motorsport driver Didier Auriol, who won the World Championship in 1994, has triumphed on the Sanremo Rally three times. The Frenchman faces a new challenge this year: learning about the Fabia WRC under pure asphalt conditions.

“I’ve always liked Sanremo,” he said. “But it’s very difficult to predict what we might achieve there this year. The only asphalt rally our Fabia WRC has done before is the Rallye Deutschland, but Sanremo is completely different. One of the biggest contrasts is in tyre wear, as in Sanremo we go up and down hills with a lot of heavy braking and hairpin bends. You really have to look after your tyres, and we still have a lot of work to do to improve our car’s differential, which affects the traction and tyre wear. We also need to work on getting more power out of the engine, but we won’t find a solution overnight. I’m very happy with the handling of the car though – at the moment that is probably the strongest point. The weather is always difficult in Sanremo, but rain tends to make conditions more equal, so that should help us.”

Škoda Motorsport’s up-and-coming young Finn, Toni Gardemeister, is also a fan of asphalt rallying but does not have the experience of his team mate in Sanremo.

Toni expects his wrist to be fully recovered after breaking a bone in it playing ice hockey two weeks before the Rally Australia. The Finn was forced to wear a plastic cast, but battled through the pain to finish the event and win the Inmarsat Star of the Rally Award. For Sanremo, he expects to do without the plastic cast.

“Sanremo is probably the trickiest of the three asphalt rallies for me,” said Toni. “The roads tend to be quite dirty, with a lot of surface changes, and there are often leaves on the ground that are very slippery. Hopefully we will have learned as much as possible from our test before the event, so we can be in a good position for the rally.

There’s a lot of work still to do everywhere, but we saw from some of the split times in Germany that the car has the potential to be very fast on asphalt. I’d like the weather to be bad – nobody can go flat-out when it’s raining or foggy!”

Škoda Motorsport Director Peter Kohoutek is hoping that the team can capitalise on the progress made in Australia, when both Škoda Fabia WRCs reached the finish for the first time.

“Our objective in Sanremo is primarily to get two cars to the finish,” he said. “I think we’ve reached the point where the car is reliable enough to hope for that. Sanremo will be a completely new challenge, as it has very little in common with our first asphalt rally in Germany.”

The Sanremo Rally starts in the town centre at 0738 on Friday October 3. Drivers then cover 17 stages totalling 378 competitive kilometres, before the finish back in Sanremo at 1535 on Sunday October 5.

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Series WRC
Drivers Didier Auriol , Toni Gardemeister