The beautiful Mediterranean island of Sardinia is the setting for round 5 of the 2011 World Rally Championships.
It’s one of the highly anticipated events on the calendar as we see the return of ex-Citroen driver Dani Sordo, making the debut for the brand new and long awaited Mini Countryman. Joining him in the Prodrive run Mini John Copper works WRC team, will be his old JWRC team mate and former IRC champion Kris Meeke. This year will only be used as a development year for the new team, but will be looking for good results and could play a crucial part in Ford and Citroen’s bid for the championship. The John Copper works team will only compete on 6 events this season.
We come to Sardinia off the back of an incredibly close fought Rally Jordan, where Citroen’s Sebastien Ogier won by just 0.2 seconds. Can we expect the same this weekend?
Who will win? First on the sandy based roads will be Championship leader Sebastien Loeb, no doubt the sweeping effect will be mentioned at stage end and noticed in his times on day 1, but it’s a 3 day rally (the trucks have arrived unlike in Jordan) and it would be silly not to have him as one of the favourites to win. His team mate, Ogier has a good position of 3rd on the road, and entered this rally last year when it was ran as a round of the IRC, although he crashed out, he will be looking to make a hat-trick of wins. Citroen have won the last 3 rallies this season.
Ford will need a win to get back on top of the championship in both drivers and Manufactures. Jari-Matti Latvala took the win last time the event was run in the WRC in 2009, and could do well this year after a good, consistent start to the season. Mikko Hirvonen has been lacking a bit on pace compared to his rivals since his win on round 1 in Sweden, but is still holding 2nd in the drivers championship, and will be looking for his first win on gravel since 2009.
Anther man who will be gunning for that victory will be Norwegians Petter Solberg. Solberg won here back in 2004, but after a sting of poor finishes, he will need a win here to reignite his hopes for the championship. After a speeding problem in Sweden, Co-driver Chris Patterson had to take to the wheel on the final stage. In Mexico his car suffered electrical problems. In Portugal he suffered from punctures on day 1, and in Jordan he crashed after a jump. Solberg lies 5th in the championship but is 47 points away from leader Loeb.
There will be a record number of WRC cars in Sardinia this weekend. A massive 20 WRC cars are on the entry list. Stobart regulars Matthew Wilson, Henning Solberg and ‘Mad’ Mads Ostberg will be aiming for a top 8 finish, something that they have been doing consistently this season, and joining the Stobart M-Sport team will be P.G Andersson and Russian, Evgeny Novikov. Also in a M-Sport backed Fiesta will be Federico Villagra for the Munchis team, and Dennis Kuipers for his Ferm Powertools team. Khalid Al Quassimi will also be driving for Team Abu Dhabi.
In the red corner, driving Citroen DS3 WRC, will be the Mersteijn family of Peter Van Mersteijn Jnr and Snr. And joining Dani Sordo and Kris Meeke, in the Mini customer cars are; for the Brazil WRT, Daniel Oliveira. And for Motorsport Italia will be Armindo Araujo.
The stages. Rally Sardinia, will include 18 special stages over a competitive distance of 340 kilometres. The permanent service park will be located in the port of Olbia. The stages are very sandy with some very narrow technical sections. Fords Jari-Matti Latvala described the stages as being some of the most difficult, particularly the Monte Grighini Nord and Monte Grighini Sud stages, which measure 21.32 km and 19.66 km. “They are the most difficult stages, especially stage number two and four,” said the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team driver. “They are very demanding, turning all the time and you don’t have any straights where you can relax a bit. Then you have a lot of Armco inside the corners so you can’t take a natural line – you have to stay out of the normal line and this makes it very demanding.”
It will be an action packed event, as we wait to see the times come in from the first stage. How competitive will Mini be? Can Fords Mikko Hirvonen get that top spot in the championship standing back? Will this rally be as closely fought as Jordan? Will Ogier make it a hat-trick of wins? All will be revealed over the course of the weekend.