Sardinia Preview: Solberg Confident

Championship leader Petter Solberg is confident of a second consecutive Rally of Italy victory even though the event has undergone a radical overhaul since last year's Sardinia debut

Sardinia Preview: Solberg Confident

Driver dissatisfaction with the stages last year, the first on the Mediterranean island after the switch from the Italian Riviera, has caused organisers to change nearly 80 percent of the runs.

The rally has also been moved forward from September but will continue to be run on sandy gravel tracks.

That should favour Solberg in his battle to wrest the world title from Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, who won last time out in New Zealand to draw to within a point of the Subaru driver at the top of the standings.
 
"Sardinia should be a very good event and I think we have a strong chance of winning it if everything works out well," said Norwegian Solberg, already a winner in Sweden and Mexico this year.

"It's a different rally to New Zealand as it's more narrow and twisty and that, along with the temperatures, is better for the tyres.

"I'll be running first on the road again, but that's the price you pay for leading the championship so I'm not complaining."

Loeb believes he is on course to retain his title as he heads into the fifth of the season's 16 rounds.

"I'm at exactly the same point that I was at the same time last year," said Loeb, who also won the opening rally of the season in Monte Carlo.

"In view of the championship, second place was sufficient last year. Which is just as well because at the time it didn't seem possible to do any better. Petter was unassailable.

"This year, we don't yet know what the profile of the rally is going to be ... the majority of the stages are new. We all hope the new roads will be nice, and there apparently are some nice roads in the region."

One Better

Finn Marcus Gronholm, equal fourth in the championship standings six points behind Solberg, was second in New Zealand and is looking to go one better for Peugeot this weekend.

"We will be able to count on our car's excellent reliability," said the twice world champion. "We simply lacked a little 'plus' in New Zealand to be able to fight for victory."

Gronholm's team mate Markko Martin is third in the title race despite struggling to adjust to the Peugeot after his move from Ford and sounded less confident.

"Personally, I will be out to score as many points as possible of course while continuing to adapt the car's set-up to my driving style," said the Estonian.

Ford's Toni Gardemeister, level with Gronholm on 20 points, retired on the first stage with Skoda last year and so was delighted that the rally had a new look.

"There are so many stages this year that nobody is going to have a big advantage," said the 30-year-old Finn.

The rally opens with a special exhibition stage in Porto Rotondo on Thursday evening and returns to the Costa Smeralda resort 17 stages later for the finish on Sunday.

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Series WRC
Drivers Henning Solberg
Author Nick Mulvenney
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