Subaru World Rally Team Rally Italia Sardinia Preview



27 September 2004
With the BTCC championship title fight going right down to the wire, Donington was always going to be a battleground for all the racers. So it proved for Team PSP, with Watson Smith having to open the race weekend from the back of the grid after overheating problems in qualifying. Hairuman also suffered, afflicted in all three races by an intermittent electrical gremlin which prevented him getting a full race.

After winning the last two rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Subaru World Rally Team will start Rally Italia Sardinia intent on scoring a hat trick of gravel wins. Previously hosted in the Italian Riviera town of Sanremo, this year the Italian round of WRC moves to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia where sandy gravel tracks will replace the twisty, asphalt stages of the Southern Alps.

Based in the spectacular mountain landscape of the north east of the island, the narrow, technical stages feature medium-soft gravel on a hard-packed base. Weather conditions are expected to be mild, but with some stages taking crews to altitudes of more than 1,000 metres above sea level, rain is a distinct possibility. A new event to the World Rally Championship, Rally Italia Sardinia is based on the Island’s Costa Smeralda Rally, previously a round of the Italian and European Championships. A special event for Subaru, Costa Smerelda was the scene of the Group A Impreza’s first-ever international rally victory in 1994, courtesy of driver Piero Liatti.

Following a ceremonial start in the resort of Porto Cervo on Thursday evening, the competition will begin on Friday morning when crews head into the mountains to contest the first of 19 special stages. Based around a single service point in the town of Olbia, 31km from Porto Cervo, the event includes nine repeated stages, and one other, making a total distance of 384.23 competitive kilometres. With thirty per cent of the total route driven competitively, the rally is one of the most compact of the season.

The three-day rally will conclude when the winning car crosses the finish ramp in Porto Cervo at 1645hrs on Sunday, 3 October. Entries The Subaru World Rally Team will be entering two cars in the Rally Italia Sardinia, they will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Mikko Hirvonen (co-driven by Jarmo Lehtinen). In common with the majority of WRC drivers, Petter and Mikko will be drawing on their knowledge of other similar gravel events, such as Argentina, as they make their Sardinia Rally debuts next week. Driver Quotes

Petter Solberg: “I’m feeling good you know. It’s so good to have won the last two rallies and we’ve done pretty well on all the gravel events so far this year. We’ve proved our pace with all the stage wins we’ve taken and it’s good to go to another gravel rally. I think Sardinia will be difficult because of my road position. The surface is very loose and, running second on the road, I’ll be sweeping for those drivers behind, but it will be the same for Loeb too. The stages are very narrow, very twisty and very difficult, but that just adds to the challenge for me! I hope we can get another win.”

Mikko Hirvonen: “Wales Rally GB has excellent stages and was a good event to drive. It was the first time I finished the rally, which was good, but it was quite difficult as the conditions were tricky and it was so fast. There were a few problems, but I finished the rally and got some points. I’ve competed in Sardinia two times before on different rallies – so I know a little of what to expect. For me, I think it’s a bit of a shame to have lost Sanremo, as I would prefer some more tarmac rallies in the Championship. Although asphalt is not my strongest surface, it would be good to get some more experience on it. Sardinia is not as rough as Greece and Turkey, it’s quite narrow, slippery and medium-slow with some fast sections. It will be a good rally I think, everyone’s driving will have to be neat and it will certainly be more excellent experience for me. It was so wet in GB that I’m hoping it will be dry in Sardinia.” The Car / The Challenge

Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth: “Compared to what we’re used to, Italy is going to be a very different rally this year. The road surface is fairly sandy, with a hard-packed base, and the stages are narrow and moderately twisty. I expect we’ll see average speeds of around 90kph, just slightly below average for a gravel rally. In terms of weather, we’re expecting warm temperatures, with the risk of some autumn showers. Pirelli tyres seem to cope well with these types of varied conditions.

The first stages in Argentina and Mexico had a similar feel to those of Sardinia and we were very competitive there, which is a good omen! “Looking to the set-up of the car, we’ll run something similar to that which we used in Japan. We had a couple of days of testing in Sardinia where Petter was able to re-check some aspects, such as the transmission set up and handling of the car in twisty conditions, and we’ve moved a step on, but the set-up is largely based on what we learned in Japan. “Petter’s title chances are starting to look like a bit of a long shot now, and we’ve been honest about that since Germany. It’s not that there’s no chance, there’s always a chance, but it’s going to be difficult.

The only way is by winning lots of rallies, so that makes the strategy nice and straightforward. We go to every rally to win. We need ten points at every round to stand any chance and it’s the only way to pressurise Sebastien. Mikko’s competed in Sardinia before and whilst it might not give him any practical advantage, psychologically he knows he’s on familiar territory. We don’t expect him to compete with Petter and Sebastien for outright victory or fastest stage times, but we’d like to see him regularly trading times with the established drivers. “Interestingly, this is our third ‘home’ event in a row. We’ve had the home event for Subaru and STI, the home event for the team and now we’ve got the home event for Pirelli. Obviously our target is to win the three back-to-back and take a hat trick of home wins. It’s obviously good for Pirelli to do well in Sardinia, so we’ll try to oblige!”