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.

Legendary Races Week: 2005 United States Grand Prix

Amid this series of articles on motorsport races that have firmly cemented themselves in history, it perhaps would be short-sighted to look solely at races that are considered legendary for the right reasons. When it comes to races that are considered legendary for the wrong reasons, there is arguably no better place to start, in recent memory at least, than with the 2005 United States Grand Prix.

The drama – or should that be farce? – began during Friday practice, when a tyre failure sent Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher hurtling into the barriers at the banked final corner, the fastest part of the track.

Michelin – who provided tyres to Toyota as well as to McLaren, Williams, BAR, Red Bull, and Sauber – duly conducted an investigation into what had caused the failure. This investigation did not prove fruitful, and so Michelin could not guarantee that their tyres could safely complete the entire race without a similar incident happening again. Michelin boss Pierre Dupasquier even estimated that the tyres would last no more than ten laps, a not insignificant suggestion seeing as tyre changes during a race were banned in the regulations at this point in time.

A meeting was held on Saturday evening to decide what should be done to resolve the issue, with rumours swirling round that over the course of the past couple of years, multiple Michelin tyre failures had occurred that had been caused by the design and construction, but had been instead falsely blamed on ‘outside factors’.

Almost every major player in the paddock was in attendance, including Bernie Ecclestone, two senior Michelin representatives, every team principal bar one, and Indianapolis’ Circuit President, Tony George. Jean Todt, whose Ferrari team was supplied by Bridgestone, declined to attend.

In this meeting, the Michelin representatives suggested that a chicane should be installed at the final corner, to minimise the load placed on the tyres. Ecclestone paused the meeting and left to consult Jean Todt and FIA President Max Mosely, who was not at Indianapolis, and returned to say that Todt had refused to agree to the idea, putting him at odds with the other nine teams, who had all given their consent. What’s more, Max Mosely had apparently implied that if a chicane was installed then the race would no longer be sanctioned by the FIA and thus would become non-championship.

The meeting adjourned with no resolution having been agreed upon and, in an official letter to Charlie Whiting, Pierre Dupasquier said that if the circuit remained unchanged then he could not permit the Michelin teams to race.

The FIA, though, doubted whether Dupasquier would follow through on his warning, and so, come Sunday morning, it was still not 100% clear whether or not the Michelin teams would take part in the race.

Michelin had flown in new tyres of a different specification from their headquarters in Clermont-Ferrand overnight, only to find that they had the same defects and issues as the original batch.

All 20 cars trundled round on the formation lap, with Toyota’s Jarno Trulli having secured the team’s first ever pole position. At the end of the lap, though, all fourteen Michelin-clad cars peeled off into the pits.

This resulted in the absurd sight of only Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello of Ferrari, Narain Karthikeyan and Tiago Monteiro of Jordan, and Christijan Albers and Patrick Friesacher of Minardi lining up for the start of the race. If someone with no interest in or knowledge of the sport was shown a photo of the final grid without any context, they’d be forgiven for thinking someone had photoshopped the other fourteen cars out.

Angry and frustrated fans in the grandstands started booing, with some throwing plastic bottles onto the track to express their displeasure.

Once the race got underway, not much of note occurred, save for Albers and Karthikeyan switching positions a couple of times.

Photo Credit: Ferrari Media

By lap 10, many fans started to leave the grandstands, and reports in some newspapers suggested that the police had had to be called in as crowds surged on Indianapolis’ ticket offices, demanding refunds.

The race went on to be won by Schumahcer, with Barrichello in second and Monteiro in third, but the on-track results faded almost into insignificance.

As soon as the chequered flag fell, the blame game started. Because all 20 cars had taken part in the formation lap, F1 had technically fulfilled its contractual obligation to the Indianapolis circuit, but it was another matter entirely when it came to the fans.

Some argued that Max Mosely had failed to find a compromise that suited all those involved, and had shown a certain lack respect by not attending the race in person to sort the situation out. Furthermore, the FIA had not taken seriously the warning given by Dupasquier that his teams would not take part, essentially calling his bluff and leaving the door wide open for the ensuing debacle to take place.

Others directed their ire at Michelin for not bringing suitable tyres to the weekend with them and, in an attempt to pacify some of this anger, the manufacturer announced that they would give out refunds. They even offered to buy 20,000 tickets for the following year’s race, which would then be handed out for free to any disgruntled fans willing to accept them. Dupasquier would go on to retire later on in 2005, the criticism he faced no doubt still ringing in his ears.

Perhaps the only upside of the whole affair was Tiago Monteiro’s third-place finish. He became the first, and so far only, Portuguese driver to finish on the podium in a Grand Prix.

This small glimmer of salvation aside, the 2005 United States Grand Prix will rightfully go down in motorsport history as one of the most legendary races to have occurred. Its infamy, however, will always be rooted in farce, and the mere mention of its name will forever leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

Roborace – Meet the future of motorsport, exclusive Q&A with Bryn Balcombe, Roborace’s Chief Strategy Officer

This year I had the chance to attend the Autosport show in Birmingham, I feel very lucky for that and I would like to thank the organizers for their amazing hospitality. It was a unique experience, I was able to see closely several racing cars and also, I watched a great show hosted by David Croft.

The first day that I went to the show, I was astonished from the variety of cars that were at the show. While I was passing and was taking photos of almost all the cars, I noticed something different, something unique, I saw the Robocar. It was placed on the side of the Autosport’s interview stage, a strange car with no cockpit and a weird design.

Before you read Bryan’s Balcombe exclusive interview, it will be useful to know some of the car’s characteristics.

Robocar. Image by Chief Design Officer Daniel Simon / Roborace Ltd.

The Robocar, designed by the German Daniel Simon, who has previously created vehicles for Tron Legacy and Oblivion, is a fully electric and autonomous car, weights around 1000 kg and has four 300kW motors, one per wheel.

The top speed of the Robocar is about 320kph or 200mph and it also has a 62kWh battery with 550kW power.

Around the car, there are several types of sensors, to allow the car to move safely and fast on the tight Formula E circuits. It has 5 lidars, 18 ultrasonic sensors, 2 optical speed sensors, 6 AI cameras, two radars and GNSS positioning.

Robocar, is currently powered by NVIDIA Drie PX2 which can run up to 24 trillion A.I. operations per second, but it will be upgraded to Pegasus platform and will run 320 trillion operations per second. The current Drive PX2, is connected to Robocar’s sensors and gives the opportunity for 360-degree situational awareness around the car, to give the exact position of the car on the track.

Bryn Balcombe, Roborace’s Chief Strategy Officer, answered my questions regarding the Robocar and the Roborace series. Enjoy!

When and who came with the idea of a fully autonomous and electric car?

“Denis Sverdlov, Roborace’s founder and Alejandro Agag, came up with the idea whilst discussing the future of the automotive industry becoming electric but also connected and autonomous on the way back from the Beijing race in Season 1 of Formula E. Motorsport has always been used to advance road relevant technology. Roborace applies this philosophy to Vehicle Intelligence Technologies, many of which are banned in traditional championships as driver aids.”

What are your expectations from the Robocar, what do you want to achieve with Roborace series?

“Roborace will increase the pace of innovation and development of road relevant hardware and software for Intelligent Vehicles. Ultimately technology will save lives on the road and move society close to Vision Zero. As in all motorsport, Robocar will continue to evolve as technology improves. Within two years of development there have been three significant steps in NVIDIA compute power on the car. So the pace of innovation is much faster than traditional powertrain. We will start to see Software and Cognitive Power becoming as important to performance and safety as Mechanical and Horsepower.”

How many teams will take part in the Roborace championship, how many cars will each team have?

“We are looking at completely new formats of motorsport that are much more relevant to testing driver skills in perception, reasoning and decision making. Basically the smartest driver should win which is why we refer to it as a Championship of Intelligence. This year we are opening up the hardware platform for 3rd parties to start to develop AI Driver Software. Before they can race Robocar they’ll need to test their software in a simulator and in DevBot, our development vehicle. The development process and AI Driver is much the same as a human. We often refer to Max Verstappen taking 17 yrs before making it to F1 (13 of which he spent driving). The process for AI Drivers should be faster but there are similar logical steps that progress from small scale to full scale cars and from virtual to real cars. For any competition you need at least two competitors. So we’ll have competition formats that include anything from 2 cars upwards.”

How easy will it be presenting to the public a driverless series? Considering that all these years we are used to seeing drivers to battle wheel to wheel and fans are connected emotionally to the drivers and their achievements.

“There is always a driver. In fact, Roborace is focused on being a pure driver’s competition because it intends to use standardised vehicle hardware. The only performance differentiator is the driver skill. In some formats this will be AI Driver software only. In other formats we can allow a human to collaborate with the AI Systems and take executive control over decision making. In these formats you’ll see human collaboration with AI versus pure AI Drivers. We may see the same natural progression we’ve witnessed in chess, where Human/AI Centaurs can outperform AI only systems and AI systems can outperform humans only.”

What are the biggest challenges that Roborace team is facing, and how are they planning to overcome them?

“The pace at which the industry is moving is incredible so we will have constantly evolving competition formats that ensure the AI Drivers remain constantly challenged. In Roborace all evolutions are focused on driver performance whether that’s better eyes, ears, brain size or intelligence. The competition complexity will increase in line with those technical developments.”

What excites you about the Robocar? Is it the future of the commercial cars?

“In the future all vehicles with become intelligent. They will all become aware of their environment. They will all become aware of the surrounding situations. However, there is a fork in the road at that point in how you chose to use that intelligence. Toyota describes the options as Chauffeur and Guardian Angel. The first is an autonomous future where humans no longer need to drive. The second is an assisted/augmented future where humans still drive but their skills and capabilities are enhanced by the AI systems within the car. We know of several high performance OEMs that are considering AI technology as a future Race Trainer. So an AI Lewis Hamilton might be able to act as your real-time driver coach when you take your Project One on a track day. He could even drive you around first as you are learning the track and to set a reference lap time for you to target.”

Nicki Shields had the chance to drive the DevBot at Hong Kong ePrix, from the video it is seen that the Robocar cannot match the human’s times, will it ever be able to do it? What are the difficulties that do not allow it to move faster?

“In Hong Kong we ran using our development vehicle called DevBot rather than Robocar. DevBot is a modified LMP3 race car that allows a human to drive but can also be switched into an autonomous mode. That allows us to run human versus machine competitions. The AI Driver in DevBot was around 10% slower than Nicki. We actually ran a brand new version of our internal development AI Driver which was designed to run using LiDAR sensors only. For safety we imposed VMAX limit and a minimum distance to the barriers lining the street circuit of around 1.5m. Sensor fusion of LiDAR with cameras and Radar will improve perception which ultimately improves confidence so speeds increase and safety margins can be reduced.”

Consider a hypothetical scenario, during a race, two Roboracs are close to each other, how will each react? Will the leading car be able to defend its position, whilst the one from behind will be moving faster for a potential overtake?

“Wheel to wheel racing is a key target for Roborace. Nose to tail processions broken by straight line overtakes are not exciting for the public. AI Drivers will have adhere to similar sporting regulations as human drivers; such as leaving one car width of space for a competitor or staying within track limits. They will also have similar goals as human drivers and will develop similar offensive and defensive tactics to maintain an advantage.”

“The interesting thing is that if there is an incident all the data and decision making processes will be available for immediate review to determine fault. No more waiting for the end of the race for stewards in interview drivers before confirming the result. Sporting penalties can be applied immediately and proportionately.”

Describe Roborace series in a few words or more than a few!

“Roborace is an extreme motorsport and entertainment platform for the future of road relevant technology.”

How many people are working together every day to keep improving the Robocar? Would you like to say a few words about them?

“We’ve built an incredible team full of international talent to bring the project to life. Building a fully autonomous car is probably the most complex interdisciplinary task you could imagine. Collaboration is key.”

When will the Robarace championship be ready to launch?

“As soon as enough, drivers qualify to use Robocar. “

Facebook: Roborace

Twitter: @roborace

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Pictures courtesy of ROBORACE