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GP Week : Issue 114
S ardinia is going to be a special event! It will be the seventh time the world rally championship has been to the island, and with WRC policies in a constant state of flux and because of pressure for WRC events to be held closer to areas of greater population, it may be the last. The Italian nation did not host a WRC event in 2010 and it has been proposed it will not do so in 2012. Contrary to original plans, all the stages this year will be run on gravel – the main novelty of the Rally Italia Sardegna (6-8 May) is to move the Day 1 stages to the Oristano area in the west of the island, with a remote service point at the old Roman village of Siamanna. On Days 2 and 3 the rally moves to orthodox stages further north, closer to the headquarters at Olbia. It is the first time the WRC event has ventured towards Oristano. The IRC event held on the island in 2010 passed that way, although only one of the 2011 event stages was used on that occasion. In Olbia itself, there is a new venue for the Service park. This is the new terminal for cruise liners, while the HQ itself will revert to the city’s splendid nearby archeological museum. The ceremonial start and finish will be held this year in the Olbia harbour area itself and not at Porto Cervo. The mandatory televised final ‘Power Stage’ will be an 8km stage in the hills to the north- west of Olbia. There are many reasons why this event will be memorable. Firstly because it is a double -rally. The national championship Costa Smeralda Rally is run at the same time, the same Day 1 stages run between the first and second passes by the WRC and the Day 2 stages run after the WRC’s two passes. Secondly the entry sees the debut of the official BMW Mini world championship team. The arrival of the Mini team is of immeasurable encouragement to the sport, even though the official team programme in 2011 is of reduced commitment,, which means the team will not be allowed to score manufacturer championship points. The independent Brazil team’s Mini driven by Daniel Oliveira however, can score manufacturer team points but only for themselves, not for BMW itself. Confidence in the World Rally Championship is due to escalate further before the rally in Sardinia, as VW are to announce their own plans to enter the WRC. Basically their programme is expected to start in 2012 and be in full force in 2013. One of the features of the rally is that only P1 drivers are expected to be allowed to run at two-minute intervals – all other cars will be at one minute. On Day 1 this situation is to ensure there is sufficient time for the Costa Smeralda Rally competitors to run between passes. The problem is compounded by the uniquely Italian rule demanding four rather than three minute gaps between stage arrival and stage start times. As for running order tactics, teams will remember how the hanging early morning dust on the final day two years ago hindered later running cars and was a major feature in the win of Jari-Matti Latvala. It was one occasion when running first on the road on a dry gravel rally was a GOOD thing! A total of 64 cars are on the entry list, with 20 entered as World Rally Cars: 10 Fiestas and five each Citroen DS3 and Mini John Cooper Works. Interesting entries are two Citroen WRCs for father and son Peter van Merksteijn. Father has the chance because Kimi Raikkonen selected his programme concentrating on events he had tackled last year and his car is not otherwise being used at this time. The absence of Ken Block from this event means that two occasional drivers have the chance to appear in Fiesta WRCs, so both Evgeniy Novikov and PG Andersson are to compete. Patrik Flodin is to drive the famous Mini chassis 07, the Adriatico Rally-winning car run by the Grifone team – not certain at this time whether this will be a full WRC or a Class 1 S2000 version, depending on available parts, but in any case with the 30mm restrictor changed to 33mm. And at last we have a car entered in the new Group R4 class. This will be the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X to be driven by Matti Rantanen. After lengthy discussions this car must now run on tyres from one of the two official suppliers, Michelin or DMack, thus ending hopes that this could be a cherished prize drive from Pirelli for Juha Salo, offered after winning the national Finnish championship. As in Group N, this car will also run with a 33mm restrictor. No top crews are expected to run with DMack tyres on this event. ForthefirsttimethisyearMatthewWilson is nominated as one of the Stobart registered drivers in the place of Henning Solberg. All 10 registered drivers in the Super 2000 world championship have selected Sardinia as one of their events, though no national ‘Guest’ driver has been nominated by the organisers. The WRC Academy category comprises the same 18 drivers seen in Portugal though there are several co-driver changes, and some changes to the cars to overcome the driveshaft weaknesses experiences in Portugal. Once again, these cars tackle only Days 1 and 2. The World Rally Car version of the John Cooper Works S2000 car is scheduled to be homologated in time for the event, so the Mini has truly become a multi-purpose cross- over rally car! It is now possible for competitors to enter the same car chassis in either specification, which is what is happening for the car of Oliveira, whose car (chassis 02) originally constructed as a S2000 is being upgraded with revised suspension, brakes and aero parts (specially the big rear wing) for this event. And the same car can now be fitted with either a 30mm or a 33mm turbo restrictor . Anaddedfeaturetoallthisisthefactthat the three-day all-asphalt IRC Corsica Rally will run the following weekend (12-14 May) on the nearby Mediterranean island, providing a really special holiday trip for rally fans. This event promises to see the first appearance of a Japanese team in an international championship rally this year – Toshi Arai’s Subaru Impreza – and is also the first time a round-the-island Tour de Corse has been run for contemporary rally cars since 1995. Corsica is also currently in the minds of rally fans for another reason. It was 25 years ago (on 2 May 1986) that Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto lost their lives on the 1986 Tour de Corse, a tragedy which had profound repercussions on the sport. It was further exactly one year before that (2 May 1985) when fellow Lancia driver Attilio Bettega died in an accident on that event as well. Many of the old classic stage venues are back again although a lot will be run in the opposite direction to before, while please pray for good weather as an extensive programme of live television from the stages is planned on that event. Itisalllookinggoodforamemorable sojourn in the Mediterranean. Travel plans coming home from Jordan have gone well, the ship with equipment landed at Cagliari (South Sardinia) with 10 days in hand before the rally. Three official teams again in the WRC, Ford and Citroen start exactly equal in championship points, and the eternal dilemmas about running orders will ensure non-stop interest from start to finish.