A HEAVYWEIGHT CHALLENGE FOR THE C3 WRC
Round seven of thirteen, Rally Italia Sardegna marks the halfway stage in this season's WRC for Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT. This challenging rally is packed with difficulties that Craig Breen – Scott Martin and Mads Østberg – Torstein Eriksen will be tackling in their C3 WRCs.
A relaxed, easy-paced atmosphere typical of seaside resorts awaits the crews in Alghero, the traditional hub of Rally Sardegna, giving the place a decidedly summer holiday feel, and yet there will be no time to soak up the dolce vita on the island's narrow, twisty roads. Little more than a car's width in some places, lined by bushes, trees and rocks and offering little grip due to the thick layer of dust that settles on the surface, the stages call for finesse and restraint behind the wheel. Precise pace notes are also of vital importance given the highly technical nature of the roads. With ten previous appearances in Sardinia, Mads Østberg – who will be contesting his third rally in the C3 WRC after Sweden and Portugal –knows the island roads' specific features very well and considers it to be one of his favourite rallies of the season. He certainly enjoyed finishing as runner-up here in 2014 after an epic fight with the then dominant VWs, also when competing for Citroën. At an event where a lot of loose gravel and sand are swept clear on the first pass, he also knows how much his tenth position in the running order on Friday gives him the perfect opportunity to get his weekend off to a strong start. Although less experienced at this round, Craig Breen, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT's other representative in Sardinia, also intends to converts the promising performances seen on the first leg of last month's Rally de Portugal into a good result, making the best possible use of his eighth place in the running order. And like Mads, Craig will enjoy two days of intensive pre-event testing just before the rally gets under way, with the aim of being on the pace straight away.
STUNNING MEDITERRANEAN BACKDROP
There is no reason to believe that the closely-contested fight at the front seen since the start of the season won't continue here – and at a frantic pace once again – especially since only limited changes have been made to the stages compared with last year's event. Most of the changes to the stages are restricted to short sections and only Castelsardo (14.37km), contested on Friday, is entirely new. Saturday's leg will present the competitors with the weekend's heavyweight challenge, with almost 150 kilometres of timed stages, and the long Monti Di Ala (28.52km) and Monte Lerno (28.89km) tests each tackled twice, before a final sprint on Sunday against the stunning backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea.
WHAT THEY SAID
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal
"This event has a reputation for presenting the crews and their cars with a stern challenge every year. The aim will be to keep moving forward and get among the frontrunners. Craig has the potential to secure one of the minor places. He showed it again in Portugal by running third at one stage, just a few seconds off the lead. Meanwhile, Mads has already shown he is capable of fighting for a podium spot and he also has a lot of experience here, which will undoubtedly be useful to the team."
"This is one of the WRC rallies where I have the least experience, but fortunately it hasn't changed much since last year and so I have most of the pace notes already. It's not necessarily my favourite event, because it's never easy to adopt a fluid driving style on these really narrow, technical stages. But I have a good road position in eighth in the running order, because it's one of the events where cleaning is most significant, so I'm going to try and make the most of it on the opening day."
Number of appearances at the event: 2
Best result: 25th (2017)
"It's one of my favourite rallies. I've always been quick here. First of all, you need very good pace notes and then you need to find the right balance between pushing where you can and defending when there is a real risk of smashing the car. I learned a lot about the C3 WRC in Portugal and ended up by showing some pretty decent speed. The two days of pre-event testing held this week will help me to find the right pace, especially as I fully intend to take advantage of my good position in the running order."
Number of appearances at the event: 10
Best result: 2nd (2014)
20 timed stages covering a total of 314.36 km
35 degrees in the air, 50°C on the ground and around 60 degrees in the cockpit at the end of the stages – these are the maximum temperatures generally seen in Sardinia
5 overall wins secured by Citroën at Rally Italia Sardegna: Sébastien Loeb in 2005, 2006 (Xsara WRC), 2008 (C4 WRC) and 2011 (DS3 WRC), and Mikko Hirvonen in 2012 (DS3 WRC)
2004 the year that Rally Italia moved home from San Remo to Sardinia
A RALLY, A CHALLENGE
The hardest rally on tyres
With its hard base roads, swept clear of loose gravel and sand without becoming rutted, coupled with very high temperatures – especially in the afternoon – Rally Italia Sardegna is arguably the hardest on tyres in the WRC. These factors mean the crews will be almost certainly forced to fit hard tyres for the second pass. In the morning, however, crews often opt for tyre combinations based on their position in the running order, depending on whether they need more grip if they have to contend with the more slippery conditions faced by those opening the road. From a mechanical point of view, the heat and the large amount of dust kicked up on the stages, which can clog up ventilation flaps and extractor vents, mean that the technical team has to be especially attentive to the various engine and hydraulics temperatures, in order to anticipate any risk of overheating.
Mads Østberg recalls…
"I remember finishing as runner-up here in 2014 with Citroën. To be honest, I have some very good memories of that rally; it was perhaps one of the best moments of my entire rallying career. We had a very good rally! I had a firm grip on third place behind the VWs of Latvala and Ogier, when Jari-Matti picked up a puncture on the sixty-odd kilometres of Saturday's final stage. At the time, we were still allowed to get messages from the team in the cockpit, so the guys told me about the puncture straight away and asked me to push to get past Latvala. I set the second fastest time on the stage, giving me lead of 21.3s over Jari-Matti going into the final leg, which promised to be very closely contested again. However, with the support of Kévin – my engineer that season – we gambled on tyres for the final day, going with a mix of soft and hard compounds. I managed to secure my second stage win of the weekend and ended up finishing ahead of Latvala by 9.7s!"
RALLY ITALIA SARDINIA SCHEDULE (GMT+2)
THURSDAY 7 JUNE
8.00am: Shakedown Olmedo (3,51 km)
5.00pm: Start (Alghero)
6.00pm: SS 1 – Ittiri Arena Show (2,00 km)
7.00pm: Parc fermé (Alghero)
FRIDAY 8 JUNE
6.30am: Service A (Alghero – 15 min)
8.33am: SS 2 – Tula 1 (22,12 km)
9.49am: SS 3 – Castelsardo 1 (14,37 km)
10.38am: SS 4 – Tergu – Osilo 1 (14,14 km)
11.48am: SS 5 – Monte Baranta 1 (11,46 km)
12.43pm: Service B (Alghero – 30 min)
3.01pm: SS 6 – Tula 2 (22,12 km)
4.17pm: SS 7 – Castelsardo 2 (14,37 km)
5.06pm: SS 8 – Tergu – Osilo 2 (14,14 km)
6.25pm: SS 9 – Monte Baranta 2 (11,46 km)
7.00pm: Flexi service C (Alghero – 45 min)
SATURDAY 9 JUNE
5.55am: Service D (Alghero – 15 min)
8.38am: SS 10 – Coiluna – Loelle 1 (14,95 km)
9.32am: SS 11 – Monti Di Ala’ 1 (28,52 km)
10.11am: SS 12 – Monte Lerno 1 (28,89 km)
1.02pm: Service E (Alghero – 30 min)
2.10pm: SS 13 – Citta’ Di Ittiri – Coros (1,42 km)
4.08pm: SS 14 – Coiluna – Loelle 2 (14,95 km)
5.02pm: SS 15 – Monti Di Ala’ 2 (28,52 km)
5.41pm: SS 16 – Monte Lerno 2 (28,89 km)
8.12pm: Flexi service F (Alghero – 45 min)
SUNDAY 10 JUNE
7.45am: Service G (Alghero – 15 min)
8.45am: SS 17 – Cala Flumini 1 (14,06 km)
9.38am: SS 18 – Sassari – Argentiera 1 (6,96 km)
11.12am: SS 19 – Cala Flumini 2 (14,06 km)
12.18pm: SS 20 – Sassari – Argentiera 2 Power Stage (6,96 km)
1.15pm: Service H (Alghero – 10 min)
2.15pm: Podium (Alghero)