This weekend sees the seventh round and halfway point in the 2018 WRC season with Rally Italia Sardegna (June 8-10), run in the north west of the Italian mediterranean island, based at the port of Alghero.
It is the third of four successive gravel surfaced events and the final WRC event before a six week mid-summer break in the series.
The route is largely the same as in recent years but there are four stages in the loops of stages on the Friday, the final stage being new and incorporates stretches of the Shakedown stage, close to the town of Olmedo. This year there will be no ultra-long stages, the longest being the 37km Monti di Ala stage used twice on the Saturday.
The service park is at Alghero harbour. General expectation is that the roads can be more tricky than other gravel rallies less rough than Argentina stages but often narrower and lined by potentially damaging rocks. Traditionally the stages are abrasive.
Michelin are supplying hard compound tyres for their prime compound. After the debates on frecent WRC events, it is interesting that there are no chicanes on the stages in his event.
The challenge for drivers on this event is not knowing how hard to push while knowing that any slight driving error carries a specially high risk of punctures.
Entries closed with a total of 50 cars including 16 World Rally Cars and 21 R5 cars before the announcement from Citroen Racing that they had cancelled entries for the rest of the season for their registered driver Kris Meeke. They will now start with only a two car team.
Kris Meeke will be missing from the Citroen line up in Sardinia, after his recent sacking.
Unlike in Portugal, there are no one-make series cars to boost the entry. Apart from the registered WRC team drivers Martin Prokop has reappeared in an entry list as has Yazed Al Rajhi as well as the French gentleman driver “Piano” and the French gravel competitor Cyrille Feraud, all three using DMack tyres.
In WRC2 Skoda Motorsport is entering Jan Kopecky and Ole Christian Veiby but there are no top championship contenders from M-Sport. There are however two Fiesta R5 entries of special interest. Hattrick European champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz from Poland has entered his first foreign WRC event while three time APRC champion Gaurav Gill from India makes his first WRC entry since Portugal 2009.
There is now quite an escalating tyre war between Michelin, Pirelli and DMack with the arrival of Gill embarking on a WRC gravel development programme (here, Finland, Britain and Australia) using MRF tyres which are to be homologated for WRC2 use in 2019.
Going into Sardinia, it is notable this is the first time since 2012 that Sebastien Ogier has not been leading at the midway point of the WRC season, thanks to Ogier’s two poor recent performances and a strong result for the new leader Thierry Neuville in Portugal.
Neuville (19 points ahead) and Ogier have the unenviable task of running first car on the road on the anticipated dry tracks on Friday. Neuville’s team Hyundai continues to lead the manufacturer series which they have held since the Swedish Rally in February.
Team by TeamCitroen
The only unexpected technical surprises in Portugal was a small exhaust issue on Mads' car at the end of the day 1, which was solved. Special characteristic of the Sardinia stages compared with Portugal are they are sometimes narrower and more abrasive for tyres, but necessary set-up is very similar. No technical changes.
After the withdrawal of Meeke, only a two car entry, a new car (chassis 12) for Breen and Al Qassimi’s Argentina car for Ostberg. Meeke does not continue testing cars anymore. In R5, Lefebvre's transmission damage on stage 14 in Portugal was the consequence of the puncture.
Thierry Neuville will be aiming to increase his Drivers' Championship lead in Italy.
There were some unexpected technical surprises in Portugal, including power steering issues on Mikkelsen’s car and unrelated loss of engine oil pressure. These have been investigated and solution found.
The stages in Sardinia differ from those in Portugal by being faster but more narrow and lined with trees, bushes or rocks, giving little room for driving error. The base is hard and sandy on the surface which implies a lot of cleaning on the first pass for the first cars and rocks are often pulled out on the second run. The temperature is really high which makes it uncomfortable for the crews and puts a higher stress on engine and transmission.
Back to a three car team (no Sordo here), testing in Sardinia in mid-May with Thierry and Hayden. Hayden had two days because he didn't test in Portugal and Thierry one. No testing for Andreas.
No technical changes in Sardinia. Same spec as Portugal. Mikkelsen has a new car (chassis 12), Neuville his Argentina car and Paddon has Sordo’s Argentina car.
No unexpected technical surprises in Portugal except for the many driveshaft failures in the JWRC R2T cars, which are still being investigated. Portugal was exceptionally rough this year and there seemed to be at least three different patterns in terms of these failures.
The team was surprised how rough the roads were on Friday afternoon. This is something that we feel the promotor needs to keep in mind – especially with regards the lower formulae who experienced the worst of the conditions.
Stages in Sardinia are a lot rougher than Portugal and the temperatures are a lot higher. Loose stones made a tough job for the crews from the first day of the recce until the very end of the rally. The Power Stage is different from the rest of the rally, it is really sandy.
Five day test in Sardinia last week, two days each for Elfyn and Seb, and one for Teemu, but no technical changes for Sardinia. Ogier has his Argentina car, Evans and Suninen their Portugal cars. Gill will run Greensmith’s Portugal R5 car.
Gaurav Gill will drive a Fiesta R5 on MRF Tyres in Sardinia.
No technical surprises were encountered in Portugal, the surprises were the rocks on the road. Portugal 2018 was much rougher than expected. Stages in Sardinia are more technical and lined closely with potential obstacles and the sandy surface creates an ever changing grip level and roughness.
No exact details of the recent engine upgrade have been announced, beyond saying it is to increase the torque and driveability of the engine, without changing the peak power figure.
All drivers tested in Sardinia the week after Corsica, no major technical changes to be introduced for Sardinia. The drivers will use the same cars as in Argentina.
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