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The FIA World Rally Championship makes a later-than-usual visit to Sardinia for the sixth round of the 2020 season, Rally Italia Sardegna, on October 8-11. The Mediterranean island has hosted Italy’s round of the FIA WRC since 2004, featuring fast but narrow stages lined with rocks and bushes. Usually this is combined with the intense heat of June, but the event will be held at an autumn date for the first time since 2012 following its postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A greater chance of rain could therefore be added to the mix this time around. Whatever the weather, the battle for the championship’s title promises to be hot as the conclusion of the season approaches. With his victory in Turkey, Elfyn Evans sits at the top of the drivers’ standings with an 18-point advantage over his Toyota team-mate Sébastien Ogier – a three-time winner in Sardinia. Nine points further back is reigning champion Ott Tänak of Hyundai, level on points with Toyota’s rookie driver Kalle Rovanperä, who recently celebrated his 20th birthday. Thierry Neuville, Sardinia winner in 2016 and 2018 with Hyundai, is looking to close a 32-point deficit to the leader. Dani Sordo, who claimed the second win of his WRC career on the very last stage in Sardinia in 2019, completes the Hyundai Motorsport line-up for this event.

Dani Sordi celebrates his victory for Hyundai in last year's Rally Sardinia.

M-Sport once again fields three Ford Fiestas with Esapekka Lappi, Teemu Suninen and Gus Greensmith. Frenchman Pierre-Louis Loubet continues his campaign in a Hyundai entered by 2C Competition, with Takamoto Katsuta back in action in a fourth Toyota Yaris. Petter Solberg, the 2003 FIA WRC World Champion, also features on the entry list with Andreas Mikkelsen as his co-driver. The Norwegian pair will tackle the event Shakedown and rally-ending Power Stage in a Citroën C3 fitted with the new Pirelli tyres developed for the 2021 season. Pontus Tidemand leads the FIA WRC2 field to Sardinia in his Toksport-entered Škoda Rally2, with competition from team-mate Eyvind Brynildsen, PH Sport Citroën driver Mads Østberg, M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux and the Hyundai pairing of Nikolay Gryazin and Ole Christian Veiby. A 16-car FIA WRC3 field features the top seven in the championship, led by Marco Bulacia. The contingent includes Finland’s Jari Huttunen, Poland’s Kajetan Kajetanowiscz and Sweden’s Oliver Solberg, who are expected to challenge at the front, as well as local favourites Umberto Scandola and “Pedro”. The Junior WRC returns to action for its third round of the year with Latvian driver Mārtiņš Sesks at the head of the standings, followed by the Scandinavians Sami Pajari and Tom Kristensson, second and third in the category standings respectively. THE 2020 ROUTE Following Shakedown on Thursday, Rally Italia Sardegna begins on Friday with a full day of action. Two runs over the Tempio Pausania and Erula-Tula stages are followed by service in Alghero and then a pair of stages to finish the day: Sedini – Castelsardo and Tergu-Osilo. Saturday runs to a similar format, with the Monte Lerno and Coiluna-Loelle tests each run twice before service precedes a return to Sedini-Castelsardo and Tergu-Osilo. The Sunday is the same as in 2019 with the Cala Flumini and Sassari – Argentiera tests both run twice, the latter serving as the rally-ending Power Stage. TEAM QUOTES TOYOTA Tommi Mäkinen (Team Principal) “We are in a strong position in both championships but everything is still open, so we need to concentrate on our own rally and push to score as many points as we can. Sardinia is usually not the best place to be first on the road for Friday, as Elfyn will be with Seb just behind him, and on this occasion they will have to do a full day of stages in those positions. But the later date for the rally this year could help us, as we may get some rain. Either way, we are pretty confident in the conditions that we face in Sardinia and we are ready to make the most of the potential that we have shown there in the past.” Sébastien Ogier “Sardinia is a rally that I like, but we’re going to be competing there at a different time of the year compared to usual, so the challenge might not be the same as what we are used to. For this reason, the test that we did there last week was important preparation. At this time of year, the weather can be more uncertain than normal, and on an island like Sardinia it can change very quickly anyway. In the test we had some heavy rain showers and the conditions on the stage changed completely in just a few minutes. Everything is still open in the championship, so we have to keep doing our best and target the maximum points in Sardinia.”

Elfyn Evans won last time out in Turkey, and leads the WRC title race.

Elfyn Evans “Whenever you finish one rally on a high like we did in Turkey then it’s always a good boost for the following round. Leading the championship is certainly a good position to be in, even though it does come with an added challenge in that we will need to sweep the road in Sardinia. It is how it is but it’s not going to make it an easy event for us – providing it stays dry, of course. Going to Sardinia in October could change the weather forecasts somewhat. It might make it a little bit less demanding for the tyres, but we will still have some difficult choices: We face some loops of stages where we have to choose the tyres for the first and second passes of stages without returning to service, so it’s still going be a big challenge.” Kalle Rovanperä “In my pre-event test for Sardinia I had a good feeling straight away in the car, and it got even better once we made some changes, so I’m happy going into the rally. In Sardinia there’s usually a lot of road cleaning on the first pass, so it will be important to have good grip there. It can also be quite rough in some places and on the second pass there will be big ruts, so you need to have a good setup to deal with that also. It seems we can expect to have some rain showers and that they can be quite local – so it will only be wet in some parts of the stages. The information from our weather crews is going to be really important to know if there will be rain or not and what tyres we need to take, especially as I’ve heard that the stages can be really slippery when it rains.” HYUNDAI Andrea Adamo (Team Principal) “We know the championship fight is incredibly close during this pandemic-affected season, so we have to approach Sardinia with the target of another competitive performance. Thankfully, we have three crews who have all demonstrated their ability to be fast there. We welcome back Dani and Carlos for this event, which holds wonderful memories for us all from last year. All of my people have been working hard in an effort to give our crews the best tools possible to repeat the level of performance we have shown in the past two events.” Thierry Neuville “There are nice beautiful roads at Rally Italia Sardegna, with flowing, narrow stages. The natural characteristic of the stages suits my pace notes system and my driving style. It’s a rally where we have always demonstrated good speed, and we’ve also won there twice in the past. The weather could be different to what we’re used to during the usual summer slot, so that could be challenging on that side, particularly if it rains. Most of the stages are well known to us from previous years, so we are looking forward to the event.” Ott Tänak “Rally Italia Sardegna is normally a hot and tough event; this year the rally is taking place a bit later in the season so we might face some difficult weather conditions. Wet weather can change the full concept of the rally, so we have to expect a range of situations. The stages are made up of high grip roads typically, which can be tough on the tyres, so tyre management is generally important. We hope to show the performance of the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC on this different type of gravel roads and be in the fight for victory.” Dani Sordo “This is a very special rally for me, with some incredible memories from last year’s event. I will never forget the feeling of taking that victory with Hyundai Motorsport and I hope we can repeat it this year! The stages are normally quite slippery on the first pass because there is a lot of loose gravel on the surface; this can benefit those crews starting further back on the order. The second pass is much more aggressive on the tyres, offering greater grip levels. I tested the car recently and had a good feeling, so the objective is victory.”

M-Sport had a disappointing Rally Turkey, and hope for better times when Rally Sardinia begins on Friday.

M-SPORT Richard Millener (Team Principal) “Firstly, I need to say a massive thanks to our technicians. They’ve put in some serious work to make sure the cars are ready for the rally and without their hard work and dedication we simply wouldn’t have been able to go rallying this week. “We’ve always performed well in Sardinia and I hope that will be the case again this year. The event is running a little later than usual, and the last time that happened there were a few surprises – including both of our junior drivers, Ott Tänak and Evgeny Novikov, finishing on the podium! “The weather could make for an unpredictable event and the engineers will also have a lot to think about when it comes to set-ups and tyre strategies with two loops run back-to-back without a service on both Friday and Saturday morning. “It’s certainly going to be an interesting rally and I think another exciting one for the fans as well. I can’t wait to get out there and see what we can do – and if luck is on our side this time then I think we can deliver a good result with all of our drivers.” Esapekka Lappi “We’re heading to Sardinia a bit later than usual so things could be a little different this year. The temperatures might not be as high, and the weather could be a bit more unpredictable. This has never been an event where you can push flat-out all the time, and that could be even truer this year. We’ll have to complete two loops of stages without service so there’ll be a compromise to consider when deciding set-ups and tyre strategies that will work over both passes. It’s going to be a challenging weekend, but we’re determined to produce a good result and I think this is an event where we have a good chance of doing that.” Teemu Suninen “I’ve always performed well in Sardinia and it’s an event I look forward to every year. It’s the first event I did with Jarmo, and where I secured my best ever result last year. Of course we’ll be competing in the autumn this time which will make things a bit different, but I hope we’ll be able to show the same good pace. As always in Sardinia, we’ll need to be really focused and careful to mark every stone on the recce. We’ll also have to think carefully about the set-up and strategy as we’ll have to drive two loops without service – meaning that myself and Jarmo will have to make any changes remotely with what we carry in the car.” Gus Greensmith “I’ve only competed in Sardinia once before, but I really like the island and the stages. They’re not quite as rough as those in Turkey, but they’re certainly not smooth and we will need to deliver another good performance if we want to secure another good result this week. That’s our aim and I see no reason why we can’t achieve it. We know from Teemu’s performance last year that the car is suited to Sardinia’s stages, and I also feel as though I am developing better consistency every time I get behind the wheel.”
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