The 2019 FIA Junior WRC Championship goes from one Mediterranean island to another as the series hits the halfway mark on the Italian island of Sardinia for Rally Italia Sardegna.
The rally represents the third different surface of the championship as the potential WRC stars of the future will make their 2019 FIA Junior WRC gravel debuts in the EcoBoost-powered M Sport Fiesta R2 car.
The rally can be summarised in three words: rough, hot and dusty – all new challenges for the 2019 FIA Junior WRC crews.
The heat is on
Ambient air temperatures often exceed 30 degrees during this rally which make for oven-like temperatures for each crew to contend with inside the car. Heat exhaustion will be a developing adversary for them as each stage progresses making it difficult to stay focussed. This is a rally where focus is paramount too with dust and visibility being major factors for drivers to negotiate on each speed test.
On the face of it
The challenge of Rally Italia is further compounded by a continually developing surface as the soft and sandy top surface covers a very hard and immovable bedrock. It results in an unstable surface that is ravaged by more the more powerful cars ahead that dig up ruts and rocks.
Tortoise and the hare
Crews are faced with two options for their pace notes that will be considered during recce and both have their flaws. An intense pace could deliver vital stage win points, but it runs the risk of not finishing the rally thanks to the tough nature of Sardinia’s stages. To aim for a good finishing position, compromising pace is needed to avoid moments that are hard wearing on the car.
For Sardinia, the best preparation crews can do for tyres is by practicing tyre changes; chances of punctures are so high that this FIA Junior WRC rally could be won or lost on a simple tyre change. The Pirelli tyre of choice for crews will be the hard compound Pirelli Scorpion K4, of which they will have 22 available. They will also have six of the softer compound Pirelli Scorpion K6 to choose from, although these are normally reserved for the unlikely event of wet conditions,
FIA Junior WRC Championship Manager, Maciej Woda, said:
“I am really excited for this rally, for me gravel rallying is like returning home, it is very entertaining and rewarding. This year’s crews have some very tough challenges ahead of them on this rally and it will be the hardest rally of their season. Round three of the Junior WRC Championship also represents the midpoint of the season which means by the end of this rally we will start to see who is in the running for the championship. It’s especially important as the next three rounds are all gravel events. Those that can demonstrate their skill in here Sardinia will have more confidence going into the remainder of the championship.”
What the drivers said:
71 Tom Kristensson / Henrik Appelskog
“After I checked some videos and onboards, I know that this rally will be really interesting and fun! For sure a demanding rally as well because of the tricky and changing stages. Sand and stones are the name of the rally in my mind. But as usual, we will stick to the plan and have fun!”
72 Jan Solans / Mauro Barreiro
“I really want to run in Sardinia, I think it's a good opportunity to fight again for the podium. The stages are similar to those we have in Spain, so I’m used to driving on this kind of roads. I have done a rally here in Spain in test mode, and the truth is that I feel comfortable and confident for the rally.”
73 Dennis Rådström / Johan Johansson
“We are very pleased with our results and pace on Corsica, so are going into this event with good confidence and high ambitions. As usual as with entering WRC events, we are awaiting a big challenge on Sardinia. It will be our second time on this event, taking our first stage win in Junior WRC back in 2017.”
74 Julius Tannert / Jürgen Heigl
“I am really looking forward to Rally Sardegna. After our win in Corsica, we are highly motivated and want to fight for the championship. It will be a tough rally and I hope I can use my experience from 2017. As we have several gravel specialists in our championship, I am sure it will be huge challenge to fight for the podium.”
75 Tom Williams / Phil Hall
“I am really looking forward to Rally Sardinia as we are now on the gravel side of the championship, after the demanding snow and tarmac rounds. This event is new to Phil and I, so it will be a good learning curve and I know this will be a big challenge for all crews. The stages are very technical here so we will need 100% concentration to achieve our goals.”
76 Martins Sesks / Krisjanis Caune
“I’m looking forward to this round, it is a new opportunity for us to show our pace and that we can drive smooth, precisely and consistently. The two past rallies were disasters for us, I recently finished on the podium on Rally Liepaja and I think I got my self-confidence back and Krisjanis too. So we have done a lot of work ahead of Sardinia to be ready for this rally.”
77 Sean Johnston / Alex Kihurani
“Alex and I are really looking forward to hopping back behind the wheel of the Ford Fiesta R2T this weekend. At our last gravel rally we were able to break through the 1sec/Km barrier to the top guys and it's certainly my hope to be able to replicate this kind of performance again out on Rally Italia Sardegna. I think the roads will be pretty rugged by the time we get into them, but I'm excited for the challenge. As always, it's just such a treat to be back on a WRC weekend as the atmosphere is simply incredible!”
78 Enrico Oldrati / Elia de Guio
“Finally it's time to get back on gravel which is definitely my favourite surface! The last event in Corsica was quite tough with a lot of turns, so we had to work a lot with our pace notes, but the result was quite satisfying. For my home event I worked really hard as I took part in Rally Adriatico and in the last WRC event (Rally Portugal). For sure we will try our best to improve the feeling and the rhythm with the stages and let's hope to score some important championship points"
79 Raul Badiu / Gabriel Lazar
“I am really looking forward to Rally Italia Sardegna, the first rally where I should feel a bit more at home with stages closer to what I am used to in Romania. The previous two specialist events, Sweden and Corsica, represented a steep learning curve and brand-new experiences for me. I hope that I will finally enjoy a trouble-free rally back on my favourite surface, even though the conditions will be tough and it will be an interesting challenge to combine speed and reliability.”
80 Fabrizio Zaldivar / Fernando Mussano
“Finally a gravel rall, I have more experience in these conditions and I hope to have a perfect rally, try to get a good result and continue learning as much as possible!”
81 Nico Knacker / TBC
"Rally Corsica was a bit difficult for us, but the goal was to finish the rally and drive every kilometre to improve our pace notes for the future. We had a lot of fun with the new Ford Fiesta R2T on tarmac - a well-known surface for me. Rally Italia Sardegna will be my first ever rally event on gravel. The target for the following weekend is to improve myself with every stage and to finish the rally so that I can gain many experiences at this great event."