WRC

Rally Sardinia: Round 13 preview

Rally Sardinia replaces the traditional Sanremo Rally and will represent a new slant on the Italian WRC round. Sanremo was Italy's WRC event for 30 years, initially a mixture of asphalt and gravel but in recent years exclusively on asphalt....

Rally Sardinia replaces the traditional Sanremo Rally and will represent a new slant on the Italian WRC round. Sanremo was Italy's WRC event for 30 years, initially a mixture of asphalt and gravel but in recent years exclusively on asphalt. Sardinia will be run entirely on gravel and teams will not know precisely what lies in store for them. The new event has its origins in the European Rally Championship Costa Smeralda Rally although the 2004 event is not run on the same roads that would be familiar to former competitors from that time.

The rally is based in the province of Gallura, in the north-east of Sardinia, with the three legs spread out in a semi-circle across the region. The port of Olbia hosts the rally but the Costa Smeralda's principal resort of Porto Cervo is the location for the ceremonial start on Thursday evening, Sunday's finish and all the overnight halts. The opening leg is the longest of the rally with 158.56km of stages and takes competitors south to the slopes of Monte Tepilora. The bulk of the second day is located further west in the hills of Monte Lerno. It includes two passes over the 34.21km Tandalo, the longest stage of the rally, with a short lunchtime test further north which will be shown live on television. The final leg is based on the slopes of Monte Limbara, 50km west of Olbia. More than 30 per cent of the 1228.92km route is competitive, making it one of the most compact events in the championship.

Citroen

With his current lead of 28 points, and with a maximum of 40 points still 'winnable' between now and the end of the season in Australia, Sébastien Loeb is as close as he has ever been to securing the Drivers' crown. Mathematically, should his closest remaining rival, Petter Solberg, win the last four rounds, his score will total 104 points. To be sure of taking the title therefore, 'Seb' will need 105 points. Since his tally currently stands at 92, he only needs to harvest a further 13 to sew up the series. Put another way, should the Italian round enable Loeb to extend his advantage at the top of the table by 3 points, which would take his lead to 31 points, he will be able to claim the 2004 title with an unassailable lead. With this requirement for experience, which Loeb lacks, Carlos Sainz is a potential winner.

Sébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "I am cautious about my chances of winning," says the young French driver, who despite this being on his second season at World level arrives in Sardinia with a 28 point lead. "In Wales, I showed that my lead in the championship didn't prevent me from going for victory when the chance cropped up. In Sardinia, I will stick to my usual tactics: push hard from the start and do my very best, while endeavouring to stay on the right side of the limit."

Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: "But I'm not the only quick driver on narrow stages! Seb is also a favourite, as are Marcus, Markko and Petter. But it's true that I like narrow roads and I will naturally be out to do my very best."

Subaru

After winning the last two rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Subaru World Rally Team will start next week's Rally Italia Sardinia intent on scoring a hat trick of gravel wins. The Subaru World Rally Team will be entering two cars in the Rally Italia Sardinia, they will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Mikko Hirvonen (co-driven by Jarmo Lehtinen). In common with the majority of WRC drivers, Petter and Mikko will be drawing on their knowledge of other similar gravel events, such as Argentina, as they make their Sardinia Rally debuts next week.

Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "I'm feeling good you know. It's so good to have won the last two rallies and we've done pretty well on all the gravel events so far this year. We've proved our pace with all the stage wins we've taken and it's good to go to another gravel rally. I think Sardinia will be difficult because of my road position. The surface is very loose and, running second on the road, I'll be sweeping for those drivers behind, but it will be the same for Loeb too. The stages are very narrow, very twisty and very difficult, but that just adds to the challenge for me! I hope we can get another win."

Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: "Wales Rally GB has excellent stages and was a good event to drive. It was the first time I finished the rally, which was good, but it was quite difficult as the conditions were tricky and it was so fast. There were a few problems, but I finished the rally and got some points. I've competed in Sardinia two times before on different rallies - so I know a little of what to expect. For me, I think it's a bit of a shame to have lost Sanremo, as I would prefer some more tarmac rallies in the Championship. Although asphalt is not my strongest surface, it would be good to get some more experience on it. Sardinia is not as rough as Greece and Turkey, it's quite narrow, slippery and medium-slow with some fast sections. It will be a good rally I think, everyone's driving will have to be neat and it will certainly be more excellent experience for me. It was so wet in GB that I'm hoping it will be dry in Sardinia."

Ford

Top five finishes on the last round in Britain earlier this month for both Markko Märtin and Michael Park and team-mates François Duval and Stéphane Prévot earned Ford its 40th consecutive points finish with the Focus RS World Rally Car. They will look to extend that record, and further consolidate second position in the manufacturers' championship, on a rally that has not only changed location, but also changed surface. Märtin, who lies third in the drivers' standings in his Castrol-branded Focus RS, acknowledges that a new event will bring difficulties. Duval and Prévot lie sixth in the drivers' points table in their Focus RS. Another new rally is good news for the 23-year-old Belgian driver.

Markko Martin / Michael Park: "I don't really know what to expect in Sardinia because I have never been there before," he said. "The stages will be new to everyone so that ensures that nobody has the advantage of greater experience. In this situation it is important to work hard during the recce. We are only allowed to practice the roads twice before the rally so it is crucial to make sure that the pace notes are as accurate as possible. Two rallies ago in Japan, which was another new event, I struggled with my notes for the first two legs. I don't want to repeat that." "Obviously it's always more difficult the first time you drive competitively over roads that are unknown. Because speeds during the recce are restricted, it's only at full rally pace that a driver really finds all the tricky places. It's good to have the opportunity to drive a new rally and from what I hear the roads have a bit of everything, so it will be a good challenge," added the 28-year-old Estonian

Francios Duval / Philippe Droeven: I have little experience of some events in a World Rally Car compared to most of my rivals," he explained. "They know the stages and have perfect pace notes while I am still improving mine. Sardinia will be different. All the drivers will arrive on the island at exactly the same level and, if we prepare properly, then we can be just as competitive as anyone else. "I enjoy tackling new rallies and it will be important to make sure I finish the event. The only way to learn the roads on a new rally is to drive all the stages competitively. An early retirement would be a waste because next year I would still have to learn them, while the other drivers would have the advantage of a year's experience over me. So it will be important to find a comfortable pace and a comfortable rhythm and not take any unnecessary risks," added Duval.

Peugeot

The WRC continues to break with tradition and, coming immediately after a Rally GB organised in summer, the calendar turns to yet another brand new round in October, the Rallye d' Italia, in Sardinia. Harri Rovanperä, who came 6th in Wales, has previous experience of the Italian event after winning it last year prior to its inclusion in the World Championship, although the actual route was very different twelve months ago. The Finn will be out for a top result on the Mediterranean island, as will Marcus Grönholm who will be looking to obtain the sort of success that has escaped him in recent outings.

Marcus Gronhölm / Timo Rautiainen: "I had the opportunity to test in the region where the rally is held. On the whole, the tracks seem to be faster than those of Cyprus and Turkey. They are more reminiscent of Portugal or Argentina. I quite like this type of road and I believe we have a good chance. The only question mark concerns the surface. The test stage we used was fairly soft and the roads could cut up after the first pass."

Harri Rovanpera / Risto Pietiläinen: "I obviously have a fond recollection of this event, especially since the atmosphere with the spectators, as is often the case in Italy, was very nice," says Rovanperä. "My knowledge of the stages won't give me much of an advantage, however, since only 12km of the 2004 event were used last year! But if the character of the rally is the same as last year, it promises to be a fast, narrow and very technically demanding. So it's going to be quite difficult. The team has worked hard to prepare for this event. I hope we will be able to benefit from that because it's true that success has tended to elude us in recent rallies."

Skoda

©koda Motorsport, along with the rest of the World Rally Championship teams, ventures into the unknown as it prepares for Rally of Italy. The two ©koda Fabias that will be entered in Sardinia will feature some technical advances over the car that contested Rally GB two weeks ago. Thanks to the FIA giving ©koda Motorsport a dispensation for a two-stage homologation, the team has taken the opportunity to make some new developments that should allow the Fabia WRC to take a further step forward toward achieving its true performance potential.

Technical news: Because ©koda Motorsport is not registered for the 2004 World Rally Championship it has not been able to make an automatic new homologation of the Fabia WRC for this season and has been competing with the car in its 2003 technical specification. However, the FIA granted a special dispensation and during the week following Rally GB, FIA inspectors approved the homologation of several technical improvements to the Fabia WRC that will be incorporated into the car for Rally of Italy. The main changes include:

1. Moving the exhaust system from the left to the right side of the car so that it no longer crosses the propeller shaft. 2. Modifications to the rear chassis to allow more space around drive shafts. 3. Water injection to the intake manifold to improve engine performance.

Armin Schwarz / Manfred Hiemer: "I have never been to Sardinia before so I am very much looking forward to it. It is always nice to go to new places. We had a good test there at the beginning of September and I am quite confident that we have a good set up for the roads which are very sandy."

Toni Gardemeister / Paavo Lukander: "From what we saw in testing I think that we can be as close to the leading cars as we saw in Finland. I have been to Sardinia once before but the Costa Smeralda Rally was run further west than this new event. I'm probably not the best person to ask for advice because I spun twice and rolled the car in the first seven kilometres!"

Event Statistics

- Total length of the 2004 Supermag Rally Italia Sardinia is 1,228.92 km, including 384.23 km divided into 19 special stages (7 different).

- The start ceremony will be held on Porto Cervo's east harbour wall (Thursday September 30th, 20:00), as will the start of Legs 2 and 3, as well as the finish of Legs 1 and 2 and, finally, the finish ceremony.

- The single service park is located at the freight port in Olbia, some thirty kilometres south of Porto Cervo.

- Recce (two runs) takes place over Tuesday September 28th (12:00 until 20:00) and Wednesday September 29th (07:00 until 20:00).

- The shakedown stage (Thursday September 30th, from 09:00 until 12:00) will use a 2.63 km test known as Monte Pinu, located 16 km west of the Olbia service park.

- Leg 1 (Friday October 1st): 402.46 km, including 158.56 km divided into 6 stages. Starts from the Olbia service park at 08:30; 'Tantariles 1'/'Loelle 1'/'Tepilora 1'; Service A (12:39, 20 minutes); 'Tantariles 2'/'Loelle 2'/'Tepilora 2'; Service B (17:48, 45 minutes). Finish in Porto Cervo (19:15).

- Leg 2 (Saturday October 2nd): 521.92 km, including 147.99 km divided into 7 stages. Starts from Porto Cervo at 06:30; Service C (07:13, 10 minutes), 'Sas Molas 1'/'Le Sughere 1'/'Tandalo 1'; Service D (12:21, 20 minutes); 'Lovia Avra'/'Sas Molas 2'/'Le Sughere 2'/'Tandalo 2'; Service E (18:33, 45 minutes); Finish in Porto Cervo (20:00).

- Leg 3 (Sunday October 3rd): 304.54 km, including 77.68 km divided into 6 stages. Starts from Porto Cervo at 07:00; Service F (07:43, 10 minutes); 'Limbara 1'/'Terramala 1'/'Monti di Deu 1'; Regroup in Tempio Pausania (11:08, 15 minutes); 'Limbara 2'/'Terramala 2'/'Monti di Deu 2'. Service G (14:13, 20 minutes). The rally finishes after the Service G out-control. Competitors return in convoy (16:03) to Porto Cervo for the official finish ceremony (16:45).

- Tyres: two types of pattern are authorised per team. They were registered four weeks prior to the start. The individual driver quota (tyres identified by bar-codes and nominated on Monday September 27th) is 60 tyres in Sardinia, 25 of which may be used during the event.

Weather Forecast
Conditions in the mid-20's are expected with slight chance of showers Friday/Saturday.

-fia/wrc-

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team