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WRC Rally Italy

WRC Rally Sardinia: Everything you need to know

The World Rally Championship is set for one of its most gruelling events courtesy of the rough gravel roads of Sardinia, which hosts the sixth round of the 2023 season.

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Sardinia is renowned for its brutal rough gravel stages that test the WRC drivers and cars to the limit, and this year marks the event's 20-year anniversary.   

Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera heads to the Italian island leading the championship by 17 points after scoring a much-needed victory in Portugal last month, ending a drought since lifting the 2022 world title in October last year.

The Finn will face a tall order to repeat the feat in Sardinia which he feels is perhaps the "trickiest” event of his campaign. Rovanpera will also face the disadvantage of starting first on the dusty stages.

His eight-time world champion team-mate Sebastien Ogier will however be tipped as one of the favourites having won the event on four previous occasions. The Frenchman, competing in a partial WRC campaign, will start third on the road.

Although, Toyota struggled for outright pace on the rough gravel last year, but has been working hard to arrest its form on the tricky surface. Sardinia and Greece were the only events where the team failed to score a podium last year.

Elfyn Evans will be among a number of drivers desperate to close the gap in the title race after a frightening crash resulted in leaving Portugal without any points. Likewise, stablemate Takamoto Katsuta will be looking to bounce back from an alternator issue that robbed him of a strong points haul in Portugal. 

M-Sport’s Ott Tanak is Rovanpera’s nearest rival in the championship and is likely to be a threat if he can find the sweet spot in his Ford Puma, having previously enjoyed two wins in Sardinia. He will be joined in the M-Sport by Pierre-Louis Loubet, who scored a career best fourth there 12 months ago.

Ott Tanak, Hyundai World Rally Team

Ott Tanak, Hyundai World Rally Team

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Hyundai has won five of the last seven editions proving that the rough roads suit its cars. The Korean marque will be well placed to fight for the victory with its drivers Thierry Neuville, Esapekka Lappi and Dani Sordo starting lower down on the start order.

It is likely to be a key event for Neuville, sitting 30 points adrift of Rovanpera after a crash in Croatia and a turbo issue in Portugal. Meanwhile, Sardinia has proved to be a happy hunting ground for team-mate Sordo, who has scored two of his three WRC career wins at the event.  

What is Rally Sardinia?

Rally Sardinia joined the WRC schedule in 2004 to host of the championship’s Italian round, taking over from Rally Sanremo.

The rally is synonymous for its rough mountain gravel roads, and this year it will feature a gruelling 49.90km Monte Lerno stage, that will include the iconic ‘Micky’s Jump’.

Fast but narrow stages lined with bushes, trees or rocks on the edge leave no room for error, while the hard-base roads are covered by a sandy surface which is swept away during the first pass to leave rougher and rutted conditions for the second run.

Adding to the challenge are the temperatures, which can exceed 30 degrees. It will be uncomfortable in the cars with higher-than-normal stress on engines and transmissions.

The inaugural event was won by Subaru’s Petter Solberg.

Rally Sardinia winners

Over the last two decades, WRC legends Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier have emerged as the drivers to beat.

Loeb and Ogier top the table for most wins at the event with four a piece. Loeb piloted a Citroen to victory in 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2011. Driving for Volkswagen, Ogier reeled off wins from 2013-2015, before taking his last win in 2021 for Toyota. 

Loeb steered his Citroën DS3 WRC to victory in 2011

Loeb steered his Citroën DS3 WRC to victory in 2011

Photo by: Citroen Communication

Hyundai duo Neuville and Sordo, and M-Sport’s Tanak both have tasted victory twice.

Citroen and Hyundai have proved to be the most successful manufacturers having both racked up five wins.

Rally Sardinia itinerary

This year’s edition will be contested over 19 stages, comprising 320.88km across four days of competitive action.

Thursday 1 June
 Shakedown - begins - 08:01 GMT - 09:01 local

Stage 1 - begins - 17:05 GMT - 18:05 local

Friday 2 June  (6 stages - 141.24km)
Stage 2 - Stage 7 - begins 07:40 GMT - 08:40 local - featuring the 49.90km Monte Lerno stage

Saturday 3 June (8 stages - 133.62km)
Stage 8 - Stage 15 - begins 07:05 GMT - 08:05 local

Sunday 4 June (4 stages - 46.02km)
Stage 16 - Stage 19 - Final stage begins 11:15 GMT - 12:15 local

Entry List Rally1 (Road Order)

The entry list features 74 crews headlined by nine Rally1 car entries.

#69 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#8 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja - M-Sport Ford World Rally Team - Puma Rally1
#17 Sebastien Ogier/Vincent Landais  - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#33 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#11 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe - Hyundai Motorsport - i20 N Rally1
#4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm - Hyundai Motorsport - i20 N Rally1
#6 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera - Hyundai Motorsport - i20 N Rally1
#18 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Nicolas Gilsoul - M-Sport Ford World Rally Team - Puma Rally1

Meanwhile, 44 WRC2 crews are registered for the second tier, topped by championship leader Yohan Rossel, who won in Croatia and in Monte Carlo.

Yohan Rossel has won in Croatia and Monte Carlo this season

Yohan Rossel has won in Croatia and Monte Carlo this season

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

A fascinating scrap is set to play out that is likely to involve the Toksport Skoda pair of Sweden winner Oliver Solberg and Mexico and Portugal victor Gus Greensmith. Former WRC stars Teemu Suninen and 2021 WRC2 champion Andreas Mikkelsen are back on the entry list driving for Hyundai and Toksport Skoda respectively. The entry list also features M-Sport duo Adrien Fourmaux and Gregoire Munster.

How have the Rally1 cars changed for 2023

WRC teams have spent the off-season refining Rally1 machines ahead of a second season under the new hybrid rules.

Reigning champions Toyota haves not stood still. The pronounced air boxes that adorned the flanks of the car to cool the hybrid unit have been replaced with a much smoother more aerodynamic design, as it was found the 2022 design overestimated the amount of cooling required for the hybrid unit This has resulted in a re-design of the rear fenders and arches.

The rear wing has also been tweaked to compensate for the new aero package.

In addition to the aero changes, Toyota has elected to upgrade its 1.6-litre engine to improve the delivery of power and its torque.

Hyundai has also revealed noticeable changes to its aero on its i20 N. The 2023 car features updated bodywork to the front and rear of the car. The bonnet has been flattened and extended while the front arches have also been modified. The team has also opted for a heavily revised rear wing and wing mirrors.

The new look extended front end has turned the nose of the car into effectively an extra splitter. At the rear, a new rear wing has been designed with last year’s central wing and end plate option transformed into one continuous wing covering the maximum width of the car.

Meanwhile, M-Sport has unveiled a bold new look for its Puma Rally1 with an electric blue and pink livery, replacing its popular purple colours from last season. While the car looks similar to its 2022 model, the team plans to continue its development during the season.

How does the Rally1 hybrid system work?

Drivers will have the use of hybrid power during every stage, with power boosts activated by the throttle pedal, while further boosts will be unlocked through energy regeneration under braking during stages.

Pilots will be required to regenerate 30 kilojoules of energy before another boost is granted that will be used the next time they touch the throttle pedal.

Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

The extra 130 horsepower is delivered through the use of three bespoke homologated engine maps selected by teams, depending on the type of stage and conditions.

Determined by the FIA and event organisers, drivers will be required to navigate parts of road sections and around event service parks in full electric mode.

In full-electric mode, the car has a range of 20km, while its 3.9KWH battery, operating up to 750 volts, can be plugged in and recharged in the service park within 30 minutes. The hybrid unit can withstand an impact of 70G.

The cars are powered by a 100% sustainable fuel.

The sporting regulations have undergone a refresh with arguably the biggest change being a reduction in testing.

WRC teams will only be permitted 21 test days (seven per driver) instead of the allotted 28 as per last season in bid to reduced costs and improve sustainability. Last year each manufacturer driver would complete a pre-event test day prior to all European rounds.

The move has prompted mixed views among teams and drivers.

Also new for this year, Rally1 drivers will be restricted to using a total of 28 tyres during an event. They will also be no longer handed an extra four tyres for use in shakedown.

In Gravel rallies only, organisers have removed the 15 minutes service normally held before the start of each day.

“By removing the morning service on gravel events and trimming the flexi-service window for P1 cars, we can reduce the working day by up to three hours, which will benefit team members but also the many volunteer officials, including scrutineers and service park marshals,” explained FIA rally director Andrew Wheatley.

How to follow WRC in 2023

Autosport will provide reports, interviews and reactions.

Motorsport.tv will also have regular highlights both during and after each WRC round in 2023.

Pay television

WRC Plus All Live will provide live coverage from every stage.

BT Sport will provide daily highlights shows from every event this season.

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