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WRC Rally Italy

WRC drivers back “more intense” sprint format trial

World Rally Championship drivers are largely in favour of shorter events joining the calendar in the future, having backed the series’ sprint event trial in Sardinia this week.

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

The WRC is conducting a trial of a new shorter format at the Italian Island gravel rally, which it hopes could offer event organisers more flexibility and help improve the championship's promotion. A move to vary event formats, to include endurance and sprint rallies from next season, is a key part of the WRC and the FIA’s future vision for top-level rallying.

This weekend crews will contest a 16-stage rally covering 54 kilometres less than last year’s Rally Sardinia, which will be completed within a 48-hour window.

Shakedown was held on Friday morning ahead of four stages [two passes through a loop of two stages] across the afternoon. Saturday will comprise eight stages, punctuated by a tyre fitting zone instead of a service, before four more stages on Sunday morning.

Speaking ahead of the rally, the drivers have largely supported the WRC’s new format. Eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier says he is “convinced” it can work but believes there could be some tweaks made to further improve it. 

“Honestly, I like it,” Ogier told Autosport. “It is also not perfect, but it a first try.

“The idea of first and second pass of stages in the same loop is not ideal with the risk that stage could become blocked. That is not optimal.

“I am convinced that it could be a good format. I like that there is some organiser trying this.

“It doesn’t change how we do the race. For sure, there are less kilometres, so there is maybe less opportunities and less room for having any issue. To recover from an issue on a short rally is nearly impossible.”

Sébastien Ogier, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Hyundai’s Ott Tanak believes the new format could create a more intense competition, with crews now expected to hit the ground running from the start.

“I would say it is mostly changing the Friday with half a day now, and it is very critical for the road position for the rest of the rally,” he said.

“Clearly here the road position is crucial, so we need to be in the rhythm immediately. In some ways, for sure more intense.

“It is obviously very busy; there is no free time at all with very short nights. It is not easy, but it is bit more exciting probably.”

It is a view echoed by the championship leader Thierry Neuville, who feels the WRC could go even further and make some events even shorter in the future.

“Timing-wise, once it starts, it will be more intense for us,” Neuville told Autosport. “But genuinely over the week so far, it has been quite nice.

“I have always said that we need longer events and shorter events.

“We need a bit of mix and some story telling; so we need to create a six- or seven-day Safari and three- or four-day Monte Carlo. That is what the WRC needs, and then shorter sprint events like here. We could even do Friday afternoon and then a long Saturday and that is it.”

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

While the core idea behind the trial is improve promotion of the championship, a shorter format offers teams an element of cost-saving too, according to M-Sport team principal Richard Millener.

“The shorter format is something we all wanted on selected rallies and I am in favour of it,” he said.

“It will be interesting to see, so let’s see how it works in reality. I don’t think we should be critical until we have done it.

“It is not huge, but it is cost-saving with hotel nights and flights. People will argue that it creates less revenue to the area, but I would argue back and say if we can promote and build the sport so it is bigger, then we will have more spectators.

“The cost is really having extra people in the workshop for a day, which helps, but also the flexibility to maybe allow more events into the calendar by being a way for slightly less time.

“The cost saving isn’t huge, but it is just the start to find ways to be more efficient.”

Watch: Rally Italia Sardegna shakedown highlights

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