Rally Italia Sardegna 2020 Review – Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio take the win!

Cast your mind back twelve months, plus a bit more to June 2019. Dani and Carlos took a popular win in the service park. Having not competed since Mexico 2020, the Hyundai crew showed their class to take a very good victory in the delayed Rally Italia Sardegna this season. Here’s the story how it happened.

 

Thursday as ever saw shakedown take place, and there were a few key moments. In the first run through, Kalle set the fastest time in his Yaris, and then promptly put the car on its roof after the flying finish!

Ultimately, Ott was fastest in shakedown, with Elfyn and Seb second and third. The Welshman set the same time as his former Estonian teammate. There was also a Citroen C3 WRC being driven by former Hyundai, Citroen and Volkswagen pilot Andreas Mikkelsen, running on the new Pirelli tyres in shakedown, the new tyre supplier running in shakedown and then also running in the power stage on Sunday, with 2003 world champion Petter Solberg driving and Andreas sitting alongside him on the pace notes.

 

Friday

With 95km’s over six stages on the first day, this was the start list for day one – Evans, Ogier, Tänak, Rovanperä, Neuville, Lappi, Suninen, Greensmith, Katsuta, Sordo, Loubet.

At the end of the opening test, SS1 Tempio Pausania 1 – 12.08 km the two M-Sport Fiesta’s were at the top of the field, with Teemu winning the stage by 12 seconds from his teammate! We all know what he said in the interview at stage end! Elfyn and Scott, the first car into the stage, were holding fourth overall, 13.4 seconds from the Finn, and last seasons winner Dani was third. Ott didn’t have a good start, losing 14 seconds in the stage. Oliver Solberg deserves a mention, after setting the seventh fastest time in his Fabia R5, quicker than Thierry, and only 16 seconds from the leader!

Dani moved closer to the front in SS2 Erula – Tula 1 – 21.78 km with a time seven seconds faster than Teemu, and now the gap between them was just five seconds. First to finish the stage was Elfyn who reported that it was a bit slipperier than expected, ending up fifth fastest and holding fourth overall at this point. Sadly, we lost Esapekka Lappi after his car overheated. Seb was now in third overall.

Elfyn took his first stage win of the weekend, winning SS3 Tempio Pausania 2 – 12.08 km from Seb and Dani. A good drive from the Welshman, despite being the first car through! Suninen remained in the lead as he and Dani were very closely matched in the stage and the gap just five seconds between the top two.

Into SS4 Erula – Tula 2 – 21.78 km and Dani won the stage, from Thierry, who was nine seconds slower in the stage, but second fastest and Kalle who was third. Dani was now in the lead, having passed Teemu who was 12 seconds slower than the i20 driver and only fifth fastest. It was going very badly for Ott, who was only ninth fastest in the stage and now almost two minutes from the lead.

After the lunchtime break, we had two stages to complete the day. The break gave the Hyundai team the opportunity to find out what the suspension problem was with Ott’s car.

Into SS5 Sedini – Castelsardo 1 – 14.72 km and it was another stage win for Dani, with a fired-up Ott only nine tenths slower and second fastest. Teemu was third in the stage and remained in second overall. Thierry moved past Elfyn in the stage with the Welshman going only eighth in the stage.

SS6 Tergu – Osilo 1 – 12.81 km ended the day and it was another stage win for Dani, with Thierry second fastest. The Belgians pace lifted them ahead of Seb and into third overall. Ott was third fastest in the stage, making it a Hyundai 1-2-3, and this brought the reigning champion up into eighth overall.

 

Classification after Day One

1 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 1:12:40.9
2 T. Suninen J. Lehtinen Ford Fiesta WRC +17.4
3 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +35.2
4 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +36.0
5 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +51.9
6 G. Greensmith E. Edmondson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:07.1
7 P. L. Loubet V. Landais Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:33.5
8 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:53.7
9 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota Yaris WRC +2:32.3

 

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo (1st)

“I am happy to be back in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC and pleased to return to this rally which has so many special memories from last year. I have been feeling really competitive all day and some of the stages have been really nice. We made a good tyre choice and we are in an encouraging position. It is only the first day, so we have to keep our feet on the ground. We want to continue like this for the rest of the rally; everyone is pushing hard but we’re here to fight.”

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“Honestly speaking I was expecting better from our day. We didn’t have a great start to the rally on this morning loops. We weren’t comfortable with the settings of the car. We did the maximum to improve our times by trying some different things. I was able to push a bit – actually I pushed quite hard in SS4 and that showed as we set the second fastest time. We made the necessary changes to the car for the afternoon and I felt immediately more comfortable. Unfortunately, and bizarrely, we stalled twice today. It never happened to me before, but the second time the car wouldn’t restart. We lost about 12 seconds in all, which is important time in such a close battle. Tomorrow, with the changes we’ve made, I am confident we will have better pace.”

Ott Tänak (8th)

“It has been a demanding day and we’re obviously disappointed. We were getting some suspension issues from the start of the day, and it proved to be something that we could not repair on the road sections with the tools and bits that we had. It is difficult to say what happened exactly, but we could do nothing about it. In the afternoon stages, everything was working fine from our side, just a big amount of cleaning but generally no drama and no surprises. We will try to keep going as we did this afternoon; our position is not great so let’s see. Hopefully the fight is now a bit more straightforward.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Teemu Suninen (2nd)

“We had a really good morning and I think we proved what we can do. On that first stage I knew it was going to be challenging for everyone and I tried to take as many seconds as I could – which worked out really well. We lost some aero after that which cost us some time, but it was still a good morning.

“Then in the afternoon the tyre choice didn’t really work out for us. We thought it was going to be a bit warmer, but the sun went down just as the last stage started and I wasn’t able to make the most of the hard tyres.

“Still it was a really good day for us, and tomorrow we just have to focus on our own driving and let the others do their own thing. The stages will be a bit faster tomorrow, but the main thing is to do my best – because that’s the way to get the best results.”

Gus Greensmith (6th)

“This has definitely been one of my better drives and I’m pretty happy with the way things have gone. There were a few little mistakes here and there, and I was a bit disappointed with myself on the first stage this afternoon (SS5) as I think we could have really taken a big chunk out of the people around us. But the time wasn’t too bad, and I can definitely see an improvement which was exactly what we wanted from this weekend.”

Esapekka Lappi (DNF)

“Our initial pace was really promising so it’s really disappointing that things had to end the way they did. It was all over pretty quickly to be honest. About 300 metres before I stopped, we got all the warnings on the screen and the steam from the bonnet and we knew then that it was over. We had a good look and couldn’t see any impacts, but there was no water left in the engine and unfortunately we won’t be back out again tomorrow.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (4th)

“It was a good start this morning. We were all fearing this first stage a little bit, which was very challenging, very narrow and we were happy to make it through with a good time. Overall, the morning loop was good: We were in third and the two cars in front had a big advantage from their start position. The afternoon was more difficult for us like we had expected. We tried what we could but we lost a bit too much time. Tomorrow should be better with a better road position. I’m looking forward to having some better grip hopefully and to try to make some good times.”

Elfyn Evans (5th)

“The morning was quite good for us. The first stage was particularly slippery and I was surprised on the second pass how much grip we had, and we had a good run. There was a bit more loose gravel on the second stage but overall we came through it quite OK and managed to lose not too much time. The afternoon stages had dried quite a lot since the recce and there was a lot more loose than expected and we really suffered a lot. It’s not been an easy day, which we knew would be the case. But tomorrow our road position will be better and hopefully we can look to fight with those around us.”

Kalle Rovanperä (9th)

“This morning we took the wrong tyre choice, with three mediums and two hards. I don’t have the experience here to know how much the tyre will wear, and it was quite tricky to drive with one hard tyre on the car all the time and in the end, we didn’t need them. I was preparing to have a better feeling in the afternoon, with some small changes to the car, but we got a steering-related issue at the start of SS5, so we had to drive slowly through both stages to bring the car back to service.  Tomorrow we will have to now open the road so it’s going to be a difficult day.”

 

Saturday

With 101km’s over six stages in day two, the running order would be key once again, with the leader from day one being the last car through. The running order looked like this – Katsuta, Rovanperä, Tänak, Loubet, Greensmith, Evans, Ogier, Neuville, Suninen, Sordo.

 

The first stage of the day, SS7 Monte Lerno 1 – 22.08 km features Mickey’s Jump and this year was just 500 metres into the stage. The top three was Seb, Elfyn and Thierry with just 3.6 seconds between them. The two leaders, Dani and Teemu were fourth and fifth fastest, Seb’s pace lifted him up into third overall, and was now just 8.4 seconds behind Teemu.

Dani was back to his best in SS8 Coiluna – Loelle 1 – 15.00 km, winning the stage from Elfyn and Thierry. Unfortunately, Teemu’s run near the front came to an end as he set the sixth fastest time and ultimately dropped two positions into fourth with Seb moving into second and Thierry into third. Ott was also moving up the order, now into seventh.

The rerun of SS9 Monte Lerno 2 – 22.08 km was won by Seb from Thierry and Dani who continued to lead the rally from the Frenchman by a huge 31 seconds. Elfyn was closing on Teemu as well in their battle for fourth overall, the gap now just two seconds between the former teammates.

SS10 Coiluna – Loelle 2 – 15.00 km, and Thierry was fastest from Dani and Elfyn, once again just three seconds covering the top three. Both the Belgian and the Welshman moved up the order, with Thierry moving into second place and Elfyn passing Teemu. The top four cars were Hyundai, Hyundai, Toyota, Toyota. Ott continued to climb up the leaderboard and was now into sixth overall.

Seb won SS11 Sedini – Castelsardo 2 from Thierry and Ott. Elfyn was sixth fastest, and holding onto fourth overall behind Dani, Thierry and Seb. Going well was Oliver again, setting the seventh fastest time in his Skoda Fabia, and he moved ahead of Jari Huttunen into eighth overall.

The final stage of the day SS12 Tergu – Osilo 2 – 12.81 km was won by Seb as well, and this pace lifted him ahead of Thierry who was third in the stage behind the leader who was still Dani Sordo. Elfyn doubled the gap to Teemu, going 4.6 seconds faster then the Finn and securing fourth at the end of day two.

 

Classification after Day Two

1 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2:14:35.5
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +27.4
3 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +28.9
4 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +58.4
5 T. Suninen J. Lehtinen Ford Fiesta WRC +1:06.9
6 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:25.3
7 P. L. Loubet V. Landais Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3:37.0

 

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo (1st)

“We end today in the same way we finished on Friday, feeling very positive and pleased with our performance. We have had to be careful to manage our tyres today, making the right selection for each loop and pushing when we could, while also conserving when needed. At the end of the final stage of the day, our tyres were finished so we had to take it a bit more cautiously. In rally, we know from experience that there is no such thing as a comfortable advantage. We have to maintain this pace and rhythm on Sunday morning if we want to get the job done.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 06, Rally Italia Sardegna
8 – 11 October 2020
Dani Sordo
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“I was happy with our morning, even if I feel that carrying an extra spare was not the best option. Our target was to get P2 and to try and increase our gap. We ended the loop with a stage win and were ready to resume the fight in the afternoon. There were different tyre strategies at play and the times were really close. I tried very hard but Ogier seemed to have a bit more speed. Unfortunately, we lost 1.5-2-seconds on the bridge in the final stage, when I was late on the brakes. When you’re pushing to the max, these things can happen. We go again tomorrow.”

Ott Tänak (6th)

“Today was a clean day with no drama. More or less everything was working well and we did what we could. I guess we achieved all that was planned, so there was nothing more we could have done ourselves. The feeling with the car was all good. Tomorrow, we can expect more of the same typically Sardinian stages – narrow and twisty. Our first priority is to get to the Power Stage and then try to push. Every point is critical at the moment.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (2nd)

“I feel pretty happy with my day today, winning four stages out of six. Unfortunately, the two other stages were not so good and were a bit costly in terms of time: On the first pass I was not on the limit enough and on the second one I really tried harder but I stalled the engine in a hairpin and lost some seconds. But overall, it’s still a positive day. Tomorrow we’re going to fight for second place and put the pressure on the leader until the end. You never know what can happen on these tricky stages.”

Elfyn Evans (4th)

“Overall, the morning loop wasn’t bad. For the most part I was driving pretty well. I just gave away too much time in SS9, being a bit too careful and too focused on being smooth and not pushing hard enough. Then in the first stage of the afternoon I tried to push a bit more and ended up going slower, so in the final stage I just kept it clean. Now we need to keep hold of fourth tomorrow, that will be key. It’s not going to be possible to catch the guys in front on pace alone on such short stages, but we have to keep going until the end.”

Kalle Rovanperä (DNF)

“On the second stage of the day, we went a bit wide in the final part of the stage: It was a narrow section where we had some things to avoid on the inside. We hit a tree on the outside and then the impact sent us into a second tree, and the damage was too much for us to restart tomorrow. It was clearly not our weekend, starting already from the shakedown. We had a bit of bad luck also yesterday which was not our fault, but today was my mistake. It’s been a tricky weekend.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Teemu Suninen (5th)

“It’s been a challenging day for us. It started okay this morning – we lost a few seconds to the guys at the front but we were on good pace with Elfyn. Then we had some issues with the handbrake and lost a lot of time in the slower sections.

“But we came back again in the afternoon – taking time out of Elfyn on the first stage [SS11] and then losing a bit to him on the second [SS12]. It’s going to be a tight fight tomorrow, and I will give it my best. It’s only two seconds per stage, and we will keep the pressure on.”

Gus Greensmith (29th)

“It was one of the best days of my career yesterday. I was really pleased with the way I was driving and really pleased with the car – everything was working well. It started okay again this morning – maybe my pacenotes were a little bit slow and the second spare wasn’t the best choice, but we seemed to make it work.

“Unfortunately, we then had a low voltage warning on SS9 and as soon as we left the stop line the whole car died – right in the bottom of a dip! So even though we managed to change the alternator belt, we could never get enough momentum to bump start it. After about 45 minutes of trying we had to call it a day, and tomorrow we’ll just focus on continuing the improvements we have made so far.”

 

Sunday

With 42km’s over four stages, the question was could either Seb or Thierry do anything about Dani? The start list looked like this – Katsuta, Greensmith, Loubet, Tänak, Suninen, Evans, Neuville, Ogier, Sordo.

Seb flew through SS13 Cala Flumini 1 – 14.06 km and with Dani Sordo only fourth fastest behind Thierry and Elfyn, the gap was now just fifteen seconds between the top two. Thierry was right with Seb, just 1.7 seconds between them in their fight over second overall.

The short blast of SS14 Sassari – Argentiera 1 – 6.89 km was taken by Thierry with Dani and Seb second and third fastest. Now the gap between second and third was just one tenth of a second! Dani’s lead was actually increased a little to just over sixteen seconds now. Elfyn was a comfortable fourth both in the stage and overall, as well.

SS15 Cala Flumini 2 – 14.06 km, the penultimate stage was won by Seb, and the gap opened up a little to 1.7 seconds to Thierry in third. What would we see from the Belgian in the final stage? Dani was just bringing the car home for a very good victory, his lead now 9.2 seconds over Seb.

The final stage then, SS16 Sassari – Argentiera 2 [Power Stage] – 6.89 km. The top five fastest were Ott, Thierry, Seb, Elfyn and Dani. Thierry was 2.7 seconds faster than Seb, and passed him for second overall as well. Seb missed out on second position by just one second in the end.

 

Final Overall Classification – Rally Italia Sardegna

1 D. Sordo C. del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2:41:37.5
2 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +5.1
3 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +6.1
4 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +1:02.3
5 T. Suninen J. Lehtinen Ford Fiesta WRC +1:33.9
6 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +2:27.5
7 P. L. Loubet V. Landais Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +4:43.8
8 J. Huttunen M. Lukka Hyundai i20 R5 +8:41.7
9 K. Kajetanowicz M. Szczepaniak Škoda Fabia R5 +10:02.9
10 P. Tidemand P. Barth Škoda Fabia R5 +10:20.9

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo (1st)

“This is an amazing result and I am really happy to have taken my second victory for Hyundai Motorsport, at the scene of my first one last year. This place is really special, and we have seen a strong performance across the whole team. I am not particularly pleased with my pace today; we had a big lead coming into Sunday morning, but I wasn’t able to set the same times as Thierry and Ogier, so things were a bit too close by the end of the Power Stage. Still, we were able to get the job done and to help the team move into the lead of the manufacturers’ standings. Mission accomplished. Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to send – on behalf of myself and Carlos – our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Laura Salvo. We will always remember her.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 06, Rally Italia Sardegna
08-11 October 2020
Dani Sordo, Carlos Del Barrio
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (2nd)

“I am so happy to finish in second place and to collect four points from the Power Stage. The result moves us to third in the drivers’ standings after a fantastic battle with Sébastien. I really enjoyed it. We did the best we could all weekend after a few issues which lost us some valuable time. Huge congratulations to Dani and Carlos for a beautiful victory, and to the team for this incredible 1-2, which has really helped our position in the manufacturers’ championship.”

Ott Tänak (6th)

“It has been a difficult and disappointing weekend for us. From the suspension problems on Friday, we knew we wouldn’t be able to mount a serious challenge. We still kept pushing and supporting the team as best we could. Aside from the issues on Friday, the car has been OK, but we know we could have done so much more this weekend. We managed to complete the rally on a more positive note with five points in the Power Stage. The team is working really hard, as it has all season long, and they are doing a great job. We haven’t had things go our way, but we’ll push through and surely improvements will come.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“It’s been very intense for more or less the whole weekend. Of course, at the end, third place maybe doesn’t show the performance that we had here, but that’s how it is. We had to be second on the road for a big part of the rally and a lot of time was lost there. After that it was always going to be difficult. But I think we tried our best and I cannot be disappointed with my performance, I gave everything I had and it’s still solid points for the championship. I’m getting more and more settled in the Yaris WRC and the performance is there. I just need to continue with that and I’m confident about the future.”

Elfyn Evans (4th)

“Today the main objective was to stay ahead of the driver behind and make sure that position was secure. Unfortunately, I didn’t get as many points on the Power Stage as I would have liked, but all in all at least we secured the result and came away with solid points at the end of the weekend. Of course, you always want more than fourth place but we knew coming here starting first on the road was going to be tough, and we were almost out of the fight for the podium by the end of the first day. We continued to push but the times were close and, in the end, I think fourth was realistically the most we could achieve. Going onto asphalt, being first on the road should normally be an advantage and we’ll be hoping that will be the case.”

M-Sport WRT

Teemu Suninen (5th)

“We started this rally really strongly and had great speed in the slower sections – proving that we can be competitive when the conditions are right. But we also had some small issues and were struggling a bit in the faster sections – meaning that fifth was the best we could do this weekend. Still there are a lot of positives that we can take away, and we’ll focus now on the Tarmac rallies where the Fiesta has always been strong.”

Gus Greensmith (25th)

“I think we made some really good steps forward this weekend, and a lot of that was due to the time I spent at M-Sport before the rally. Going through all of the data with my engineer we were able to find a lot of ways to improve and also tried something new with the set-up which gave me a lot more confidence. For me it was definitely one of my better performances. It was pretty disappointing about some of the issues we had, but that’s rallying and we’ve shown that we can fight a lot closer to the top.”

2020 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round six

1 E. Evans 111
2 S. Ogier 97
3 T. Neuville 87
4 O. Tänak 83
5 K. Rovanperä 70
6 T. Suninen 44
7 E. Lappi 38
8 D. Sordo 26
9 C. Breen 25
10 S.Loeb 24

 

2020 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round six

1 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 208
2 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 201
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 117
4 Hyundai 2C Competition 8

 

 

Warren’s Thoughts

At Hyundai it was a good drive by Dani Sordo. Five stage wins gave him the lead, and he was able to keep his pace high enough so that when others hit the pace that they needed to challenge, he had enough in reserve to hold on the lead and therefore take the victory. Unfortunately, the issue with the subframe being underweight by 24kg’s has slightly taken the shine off the result. The significant fine that the team picked up because of this will set some minds at rest, but others may think more should have been done. Ott Tänak was really held back with his woes on Friday, but once the problems were resolved, he was on the pace. Sadly, it makes it even harder for him to retain his title. Thierry kept his title hopes alive with a strong drive, and nearly took the win from his teammate. He is now Hyundai’s best hope for the driver’s championship.

 

At Toyota the championship leader, Elfyn Evans did what he could given that he was opening the road on Friday, including a stage win and finished in fourth. His teammate, Seb, did what he could to finish higher up, but third overall could have been second, and a smaller gap to close come the end of the year. Kalle showed well, but retirement beckoned for the young Finn.

 

Finally, at M-Sport they started really well, holding a 1-2 after the first stage, with Teemu ‘Sending It’! As the rally went on throughout Saturday, the pace was too much for the Finn to hold the faster cars behind and ultimately ended the event in fifth. We didn’t get to see what Esapekka could do, after his engine overheated and he retired. Gus Greensmith went well, setting eleven top ten times. Reliability cost him a decent result, but we shall see what he and Elliot his co-driver can do in the last couple of events.

 

One more thing to mention is that Petter Solberg and Andreas Mikkelsen teamed up in a Citroen C3 WRC running on next year’s Pirelli tyres, with the younger Norwegian on the stage notes as they completed the final stage. We don’t know what time they set, but nevertheless it is a significant moment for the tyre manufacturer.

Petter Solberg (NOR) and Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) of team Citroen C3 WRC. Photo credit Red Bull Content Pool

Looking ahead, we now have two events left to complete this season. Ypres in Belgium at the beginning of November, and now in December, Rally Monza. This event was announced on Friday afternoon!

Rally Italia Sardegna 2020 – Preview.

We come to this event much later in the year than normal. It will be interesting what the weather does, as it is normally a dry and hot rally. As I write this, the weather reports suggest that there will be rain at the start of the week, but that it will warm up and the rain will stop.

Of course, as championship leaders, Elfyn Evans and his co-driver Scott Martin will be opening the road on Friday. The last time they did that in Mexico, they finished in fourth place. What kind of a result will they be able to get in this rally? They hold an 18-point lead over their teammates and former champions.

Seb and Julien, and will be working hard to get a good result for their championship challenge. The former champions will want a strong result, and at least a podium finish to set up a title decider in the Ypres Rally. I suspect they will target winning on the island of Sardinia.

Third on the road, Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja lie 27 points from the championship leader. The Hyundai team know how to win here, with Thierry taking victories in 2016 and 2018. The Estonians hopes of getting a top result and successfully defending their world title, make this event very important. They have to outscore both former teammates, and ideally win.

Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio and, who won this event last year will start for Hyundai as well, their first competitive start in the car since Rally Mexico.

2019 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 08, Rally Italia Sardegna
13 – 16 June 2019
Dani Sordo
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

At Toyota, Kalle Rovanpera, who has just turned 20 will have much to learn about getting to grips with this event, but will have the best teammates alongside him. He also competed last year in a Skoda Fabia R5, and finished in ninth place. This season he has taken some very good results in this first season at the top, sitting fourth in the championship.

At M-Sport, Teemu is the only driver to have stood on the podium this season, taking third in Mexico and took second place last year in this event behind Dani. It gives all three drivers hope that they can secure a good result in this event, and to finish the season strongly.

Petter Solberg and Andreas Mikkelsen will be driving the final stage of the rally in a Citroen C3 WRC on Pirelli tyres. The Norwegian pairing have been helping Pirelli test their tyres, in their preparations for next season when they become the tyre supplier for the championship.

Here’s the stage information for you. Sixteen stages and 238km of action in total.

Let’s hear from the drivers!

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

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

“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.”

FIA World Rally Championship 2019 / Round 08 / Rally dÕItalia Sardegna / 13-16 June, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

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 Motorsport

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.”

2019 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 08 Rally Italia Sardegna
13 – 16 June 2019
Day 3, Podium, Dani Sordo, Carlos Del Barrio, Anders Jaeger,
Photographer: Fabien Dufour
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

M-Sport WRT

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.”

Teemu Suninen and Jarmo Lehtinen took three stage victories last year on their way to second overall. Photo credit M-Sport WRT

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.”

 

Summary

We are really set for an incredible finish to the end of the championship. There are only three crews who can realistically win the title, two at Toyota and one at Hyundai. Kalle at Toyota and Thierry at Hyundai still have a mathematical chance, but it’s unlikely to be their year.

In terms of who will be fighting for victory, I think that Seb and Ott will fight it out for victory, with either Thierry, Dani or Teemu getting the final podium position. Ott will hope that Thierry or Dani can finish ahead of Seb and Elfyn, taking points away from his championship rivals, as he bids to win his second title. Elfyn will want to get a good result, as he bids for his first world championship title.

In the manufacturers’ battle, Toyota lead the way, but Hyundai who are the reigning champions will want to score well. With three winners at Hyundai, they have a good chance of doing just that.

Rally Mexico 2020 Preview – Heat and Height bring a tricky combination

It’s time for the first round of the year on gravel, and Elfyn Evans with co-driver Scott Martin head to Mexico as leaders of the World Championship for the first time in their careers, just like Ott Tanak and Martin Jarveoja last year. This brings them a whole new challenge. Opening the road on day one, with lots of road cleaning is going give them a whole new learning curve. The one thing that could allow them to stay in the hunt for a win would be if it rains. If that doesn’t happen, the best they can hope for is finishing on the podium.

 

Throwback to 2019

Twelve months ago, Seb and Julien took a strong victory winning four stages. Ott Tanak and Martin Jarveoja took five stage wins, and finished in second position, 30 seconds behind the French duo. Welsh wizard Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin took their first podium of the year as well at the time, despite not winning any stages, with a really good consistent run, which kept them in second place until Sunday.

Now, who will be in the fight for victory? It’s hard to look past Seb Ogier, Ott Tanak and Thierry Neuville battling for this one, but can either of M-Sport Ford’s Finns come through to challenge? Elfyn took a very good podium last year for his former team, so the car has good pace on gravel.

 

12 March

10:01     —                Llano Grande [Shakedown]                         5.51 km

 

Leg 1 — 135.10 km

12 March

20:08     SS1         Monster Energy Street Stage GTO 1          1.12 km

20:31     SS2         Monster Energy Street Stage GTO 2          1.12 km

13 March

9:08        SS3         El Chocolate 1                                                    31.45 km

10:16      SS4         Ortega 1                                                                 17.24 km

11:14       SS5         Las Minas 1                                                          13.69 km

12:12      SS6         Parque Bicentenario                                          2.71 km

15:35     SS7         El Chocolate 2                                                    31.45 km

16:43     SS8         Ortega 2                                                                17.24 km

17:41      SS9         Las Minas 2                                                          13.69 km

19:21     SS10       SSS Autodromo Shell V-Power 1                 2.33 km

19:26     SS11       SSS Autodromo Shell V-Power 2                 2.33 km

19:26     SS12       Street Stage León                                              0.73 km

 

Leg 2 — 133.74 km

14 March

8:58       SS13       Guanajuatito 1                                                    24.96 km

10:01      SS14       Alfaro 1                                                                  16.99 km

11:08      SS15       Derramadero 1                                                    21.78 km

14:56     SS16       Guanajuatito 2                                                   24.96 km

15:59     SS17       Alfaro 2                                                                   16.99 km

17:08     SS18       Derramadero 2                                                    21.78 km

18:38     SS19       SSS Autodromo Shell V-Power 3                 2.33 km

18:43     SS20       SSS Autodromo Shell V-Power 4                 2.33 km

19:26     SS21       Rock & Rally León                                                  1.62 km

 

Leg 3 — 56.01 km

15 March

8:38        SS22       Otates                                                                   33.61 km

9:56        SS23       San Diego                                                            12.76 km

11:18        SS24       El Brinco [Power Stage]                                 9.64 km

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans

“It’s obviously been a great start to the year with the team, and I’m looking forward now to the first gravel event of the season. In a way, Mexico is quite like the first two rallies of the year, in that it has its own specific challenges that we have to try and adapt to. And this year, it’s another new surface for us to get used to with a new car. But we found a good feeling in the first two rounds, and we hope to do the same in Mexico. Leading the championship does mean we will be opening on the road on Friday, which will not make it easy for us, but we almost have to forget about that and just focus on the job in hand.”

Sébastien Ogier

“It’s always a great feeling every year to go to Rally Mexico. I have so many good memories there: It was my first WRC event back in 2008, when we started with a win in the Junior category, and since then we’ve had a lot of good results there. I have had the chance to do two days of testing in Spain recently, and I think the first feeling with the car on gravel is really good. After two events where we had some good pace but didn’t manage to claim a win yet, this will definitely be the target in Mexico. With more mileage in the car now, I start to feel more and more comfortable in the Yaris WRC. Being third on the road is not a bad starting position, and our plan will be to try to fight as hard as we can for the victory.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“The pre-event test in Spain was the first time for me on gravel in the Yaris WRC, but I was getting used to the feeling more and more. We tried a few different setup options and I think we found a good compromise. I competed on Rally Mexico two years ago, and the main difficulty there is the high altitude, which means you need to adapt your driving style. Sweden was of course a very nice rally for us, but I think that Mexico could be one of the trickiest events for me this year with my experience, and we will have to see how it goes.”

FIA World Rally Championship 2019 / Round 03 / Rally Mexico / March 7th-10th, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“Rally México is the first ‘summer’ event with hotter temperatures than we faced in Monte and Sweden, as well as high altitude and some demanding long stages. They are tough conditions, especially as one of the first cars on the road. I have great memories of Mexico, including our first podium with Hyundai Motorsport, and my first-ever WRC top-three finish the year before. It has always been one of the rallies I wanted to win; I was never quite able to achieve it, but it would be nice to change that this year.”

2019 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 03 Rally Mexico
07-10 March 2019
Day 2, Action, Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Fabien Dufour
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“I was pleased to get my first podium with Hyundai Motorsport in Sweden, but Mexico will be very different – it’s a unique challenge. The heat and altitude make it a very specific event on the calendar. On the fan side, too, it’s amazing; we have a lot of people spectating and going crazy which makes it very special and emotional for us as drivers. There’s nowhere better than Mexico to come and get some sunny weather after the winter. Physically, it can be tough. At altitude we don’t have as much oxygen, so our driving style needs to be smooth and flowing, while the engine power is reduced, so we have to be efficient.”

Dani Sordo

“I am excited to be back in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC at Rally México, an event I enjoy a lot and where I have always had a good performance. I have stayed close to the team in the opening events of the season, and took part in Rally Serras de Fafe last weekend, so I feel fit and ready. I really want to win in Mexico and to take another victory for the team. Our road position on the first day should be advantageous but that alone is not enough. The altitude makes it a difficult event, so we have to be prepared physically and to look after the car as well. We have a lot of support and passion from the fans, which only adds to the character of this event. I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Esapekka Lappi

“Every time I get behind the wheel I’m learning more and fine-tuning the set-up to better suit my driving. We worked on a few things in Sweden, and continued that at the pre-event test last week. We’ve not been too far off challenging for the podium, and I think that has to be our goal in Mexico.

“I’m getting more and more confident with the Fiesta, but of course Mexico is a tricky and unique event where you really need to be clean and efficient in your driving. The altitude also means that we run with less power, so small mistakes take longer to recover. But the feeling is good, so let’s see what we can do.”

Teemu Suninen

“I’ve always enjoyed this event and the stages are really nice to drive, but the high temperatures and altitudes mean that it can also be really challenging. Even with a world rally car you can feel the lack of oxygen and we need to be prepared for that – both physically and in our driving too.

Teemu and Markko had a tricky event last year. Photo credit, M-Sport WRT

“We haven’t had the best start to the season, but I’m now fully focused on this event. We completed a pre-event test last week where we found a good set-up, and we know from previous years that the Fiesta is a fast and reliable car here. We will certainly be trying our best to score some good points next week.”

Gus Greensmith

“I’m a huge fan of Rally Mexico and it’s probably my favourite place to visit on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar. The scenery and colours of Guanajuato and the enthusiasm of the fans provide a truly special experience for everyone and I can’t wait to get back there.

“I really enjoyed my time there in 2018, but it will be a completely different challenge this year. I’ve been preparing in the heat and altitude chambers so my body is definitely feeling efficient and I’m sure that will help my performance next week, so let’s see what we can do.”

Summary

Well, we are set for a very exciting rally again from Mexico as the battle for this year’s title continues. Many questions will be answered by the end of this classic event, but we may have even more added. Can Elfyn and Scott, just like Ott and Martin last year did last year keep the championship lead by finishing on the podium? Can Seb and Julien score their first win for Toyota? Or will it be Ott and Martin on top? Shakedown will be very interesting on Thursday, and may reveal some answers. Enjoy!