The view over the Mediterranean was simply beautiful. There were two of us in the car, but I hoped dearly that I was the only one to notice - and appreciate - it. I think I was. Juho was a bit busy at the time.
My view was coming from the right-hand seat of Juho Hanninen's Skoda Fabia S2000. The very seat from which Mikko Markkula had guided Hanninen to victory on Rally d'Italia, the latest round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, just 15 hours earlier.
Juho Hanninen during Rally d'Italia Sardegna © Sutton
Thankfully, Hanninen hadn't lived up to stereotypical Finnish rally-winning celebrations the night before and he was bang on the button as he ratcheted the Fabia through the gears off the startline. This wasn't my first taste of Super 2000 rallying; that came with Matthew Wilson in an enormously impressive run through Greystoke in the Fiesta.
In the wettest of Cumbria's wet Novembers what had impressed me most about the Fiesta was the grip, the brakes and the precision with which Wilson could place the car on the road. And, obviously, the noise; not everybody agrees with Super 2000 rallying, but the aural delights of this formula quickly silence such critics.
What also impressed me about Wilson was the commitment with which he attacked the corners. Admittedly, they were corners he probably knew quite well, but he was still launching the car at the bends and - on occasion - tugging another gear mid-corner to keep the engine in the powerband. As an introduction to the Group N alternative, it was massively impressive. It's no surprise that the Fiesta has edged just ahead of the Fabia in terms of a Super 2000 benchmark.
That might be about to change. Just before I strapped myself in alongside Hanninen, he and Skoda his team-mate Jan Kopecky unveiled the evolution version of what I was now sitting in. The new Fabia S2000 looks quite similar to the front of the Fiesta. Sitting low on asphalt suspension, the Skoda buries a more aggressive and purposeful snout into the road, making the current IRC series-leading machine look almost agricultural in its gravel set-up.
Sweeping through the first right hander in top gear, it felt anything but agricultural. Again, like the Fiesta, there was plenty of grip available from the mechanical transmission through the first couple of sweepers. But, as Hanninen sought to scrub speed for an approaching hairpin while simultaneously dealing with a couple of medium-speed corners, the lack of active transmission became more apparent. With Juho's brain doing the work of a million sensors and a billion bytes of electro-stuff, it was back to the old school with a big slide one way, left foot hard on the brake while the right foot jabbed at throttle to assist to rapid-fire downshifting through the sequential gearbox.
Juho Hanninen © Sutton
In a World Rally Car, the same series would have been dealt with in a far more serene, index-finger-flappy-paddle-nudging manner. Going back to basics won't be for everybody, but I'm quite keen to see drivers earning their keep. Hanninen was certainly doing that.
The final flourish on approach to the hairpin was the handbrake. Once sliding, I was expecting the likeable Juho to be forced to slip the clutch a couple of times to keep us moving. Not a bit of it. He feathered the throttle as we dallied with the edge of the road and a couple of trees, but there was no shortage of power going through the Fabia's four wheels. So much for Super 2000 cars being peaky and short on torque. Not from where I was sitting.
The best was still to come, though.
Having been used by Skoda on the Czech team's pre-event test, the road we were on was no well worn. Classic bedrock Sardinia, in fact. This didn't bother car or driver a jot. Hanninen's unflinching approach to the road ahead remained intact despite enormous rocks and deep ruts. Such is the supremacy of suspension technology on current rally cars - there's little to chose between the Reiger dampers found on Super 2000 and World Rally Cars - they can deal with agonisingly rough terrain with little more than a bump or a rebound. The Fabia's ability to keep four wheels squarely on the ground while powering the car forward without breaking traction was astonishing.
The big test was the uphill hairpin. Granted, we weren't fired out of the apex with the kind of neck-jarring force a current World Rally Car musters from its enormously torquey motor mated to a trick centre differential, but, believe me, it wasn't far behind.
Out of the twisty stuff and we're back in the quick. A rapidly approaching crest is prepared for by a dab of brakes to unsettle the car and keep it loose (while still clogging on in fifth) and a bit of drift through the quick right hander over the crest. I expected the car to at least go light and slide a bit more.
We were back in sixth before I could say: "I can see the sea from here..."
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