Sanremo Rally Ford Racing preview

Just 12 days after moving into a clear lead of the FIA World Rally Championship in New Zealand, the Ford Martini team will return to competition in very different surroundings. Before jet lag had settled the team turned its attentions to Italy's...

Just 12 days after moving into a clear lead of the FIA World Rally Championship in New Zealand, the Ford Martini team will return to competition in very different surroundings. Before jet lag had settled the team turned its attentions to Italy's Sanremo Rally (4 - 7 October), round 11 of the 14 event series and the first of two consecutive all-asphalt competitions.

The Italian Riviera in early October is a pleasant place to be but there will be little chance for an early autumn holiday. The pace in the mountain roads high above the coastal resort will be fast and furious as Ford Martini bids to extend its 10-point lead in the manufacturers' series.

Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and colleagues Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya will carry the manufacturer nominations in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars but the team will field two more pairings in an effort to boost the title hopes of McRae and Sainz in the drivers' series. Regular Ford Martini members François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup and Italian Championship leaders Paolo Andreucci and Alberto Giusti will also drive Focus RS cars.

After struggling to match the pace of some rivals on the last asphalt rally in Spain in March, the Ford Martini team and tyre partner Pirelli have worked hard to regain ground. Several tests have been held, with the bulk of the driving carried out by Delecour, and Sainz will carry out a one-day test in Spain immediately before the Sanremo reconnaissance begins.

McRae, who moved level on points with Tommi Mäkinen at the top of the drivers' points table in New Zealand, won in Sanremo in 1996 and 1997. But he knows that while the Focus RS / Pirelli combination is the strongest combination in the championship on gravel, it is not so on asphalt.

"I know that both our team and Pirelli have made progress on asphalt since the last rally on that surface in Spain," said 33-year-old McRae. "We've been working very hard over the last few months but what we don't know is how much progress the other teams have made. I'm sure they haven't been standing still.

"The asphalt in Italy is less abrasive than the next round in Corsica but it's still harder on tyres than the Catalunya Rally in Spain. The unknown factor in Sanremo is always the weather. If it stays dry there's no problem. But cold nights in the mountains can leave damp patches and slippery leaves under the trees next morning while heavy rain washes a lot of dirt onto the roads. It's very unpredictable," he added.

Sanremo is one of just three championship rounds that Sainz has yet to win. However, two second and three third places show his prowess on asphalt. "It's quite a typical asphalt rally, quite simple from a driving aspect, and the special stages are quite slow," said the 33-year-old Madrid-based driver. "People think the tests in Corsica are slow but they're faster than those in Italy.

"We've reached the point in the season where every rally is crucial. Competition on asphalt rallies is always strong but we need to score points, both in the manufacturers' and drivers' championships, on these two hard surface events," he said.

Delecour was second in Sanremo last year and is hoping for wet conditions. "Rain would be good for us because I think those conditions would suit the car and the tyres more," he said. "We've done a lot of work in the last few months on asphalt and I think we'll be more competitive than we were earlier in the year on this surface. There are about 60km of new stages but they're new for everyone so it's not a big disadvantage."

FIA Super 1600 Championship

This category, regarded as a junior world championship, enters its second half with two of the remaining three events on asphalt. Six Ford Puma cars are entered, with a seventh for the unregistered Martin Rowe. Norwegian Martin Stenshorne remains the leading Puma driver in third but asphalt experts Patrick Magaud and François Duval can be expected to head the Puma challenge. Magaud tested the Puma on asphalt in the Rallye Mont Blanc Morzine earlier this month, concentrating on differential and shock absorber development.

Challenge of the Sanremo Rally

On any asphalt rally, the uncertainties of the weather can create major difficulties in tyre selection. Trying to drive 300bhp rally cars fitted with dry weather rubber in heavy rain is a task similar to trying to handle a wet bar of soap. So advance information of the conditions high up the mountains above Sanremo will be vital for drivers and Pirelli tyre engineers trying to make decisions on the coast at the Imperia service park.

To be sure of the most up to date information the team will use the services of three expert weather crews, who place themselves in strategic positions in the mountain stages to relay details back to the service area. From their location, the crews will gather data, including rainfall, wind strength and direction, temperature and road conditions, all relayed to the team by coded radio transmission.

This allows informed decisions to be made as to what tyres will be best suited for stages that may not start for another two hours. During that time conditions in the mountains can be the exact opposite to those in the relative calm by the coast.

Rally Route

The route has undergone major changes following crowd congestion in the hills behind Sanremo last year. The service park has been switched from Sanremo to Imperia and the rally features some stages not used since the 1970s. However the ambitious plan to run a 43km stage encompassing the classics stages at Colla di Langan and the Passo di Teglia have been scrapped due to roadworks. They will now be split into two stages with a short link section in the middle. After a ceremonial start in Sanremo on Thursday evening the rally is based entirely in the mountains above the town. There are 386.86km of competition in a route of 1426.59km before the finish back in Sanremo on Sunday afternoon. The second leg is the longest of the three with 142.01km of stages.

-Ford Racing-

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Series WRC