After the long haul to MÃ©xico 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...
After the long haul to México 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.
Last year marked a number of changes for the event, not least of which its move from Tarmac to gravel, as well as the change of venue from the coastal resort of Sanremo - where the event had been hosted since 1961. This year Rally Italia Sardinia faces yet another change: a move of date, to springtime. In comparison to last year, the route has also been somewhat modified but conditions are still expected to be varied and, although the weather should be warm and fine, there is always the risk of showers.
Being that 2004 was the first year Italy’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship was held on gravel, historical results for Rally Italia have little bearing, and most of the contenders were surprised by the rough and tricky conditions last year. It was not one of Harri Rovanperä’s best events of the season either, and the Finn was forced onto the sidelines with gear selection problems. He did however win the island’s Costa Smeralda Rally in 2003, a round of the FIA European Rally Championship.
The team’s Technical Director, Mario Fornaris said: "We have had a very intense test program since New Zealand and have new dampers for Sardinia. The test was essentially for Italy and Cyprus and we have new settings for Sardinia. It’s looking good at the moment and although we are now heading towards the real hard gravel rallies, we have some improvements to look forward to and more ideas for the future. We have rectified the small problems we had in New Zealand and are feeling very confident about the tires for Sardinia; I think we will have an advantage with Pirelli in these conditions".
Harri Rovanperä added: "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".
Commenting on the team strategy for Sardinia, Isao Torii, Head of Mitsubishi Motor Sports said: "This is Gigi’s home rally and last year he made a very good result with sixth place overall in our Group N car, so I am expecting him to perform very well in this rally". "Unfortunately Harri’s result in New Zealand was not so good, largely due to excessive tire wear, but we have already made some investigation into this and have a back-up plan for Sardinia, although we are not expecting tires to have quite the same influence as they did in New Zealand. There is no change to our strategy; our drivers must try to understand the car in the conditions before pushing harder and ultimately finishing the rally. Both cars in the points, and one within the top five remains our goal, and I am feeling pretty much confident that we can make a good result in Sardinia".
For the first time in his career, "Gigi" Galli will compete in his home round of the FIA World Rally Championship in a world rally car. The Italian, co-driven by Guido D’Amore, will contest the fifth round of the series, the Supermag Rally Italia Sardinia, in the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05, partnering Harri Rovanperä/Risto Pietiläinen for the second successive event this season. Galli is also the first Italian factory driver in the WRC since Piero Liatti last competed in 2001, and Mitsubishi’s trip to the Mediterranean island will be its first, being that it missed the event last year while developing its world rally car.
Gigi Galli has competed in his home round of the series on five occasions, variously in Group N and JWRC machinery. In 2004 the Italian set a blistering pace in Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution production car, blitzing the opposition to finish an incredible sixth overall, his best-ever FIA WRC result. Galli and co-driver Guido D’Amore were in a class of their own, driving faultlessly from start to finish and, claiming the Group N victory was an added bonus.
"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".
Rally Italia Sardinia, the fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship and round three of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, is hosted in the northern port of Olbia and kicks off with a ceremonial start in the beautiful and coveted tourist destination of Porto Rotondo, 15 kilometers north of Olbia, on Thursday April 28. From its central service park at Molo Brin, in Olbia, the opening leg - on Friday - takes the crews over six stages and 139.70 competitive kilometers. The second day of competition on Saturday is the longest of the event, taking in five stages over 144.01 competitive kilometers, while Sunday covers a compact route of six stages and 66.14 kilometers of competition before the finish back at Porto Rotondo. In total, the event covers 17 stages and 350.03 competitive kilometers in a total distance of 1,192.28 kilometers.