Several of the leading World Rally Championship drivers have highlighted Rally Sardinia’s opening Tempio Pausania stage as one of the toughest tests of this weekend’s event.
The 7.5-mile stage is a returning addition to the itinerary this year and has already caught the attention of crews due to the narrowness of the roads.
Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville was the most vocal about the potential dangers of the stage, with the Belgian claiming its tight and twisty nature could spring a few surprises on the first day.
“The first stage of the rally is a little different to all the rest of the rally. It’s very, very narrow, very, very slow,” Neuville said.
“We said with Nicolas [during the recce] that there are at least 25 places where you can take off four wheels at the same time, so it’s going to be a challenge to open the rally.
“It definitely does [change the approach], it has been raining a lot here during the last few weeks. The roads were very much damp and even some of the stages were wet and muddy.”
Toyota’s Sébatien Ogier offered a similar analysis of the Tempio stage, saying that despite the weather forecast for the weekend appearing to be drier than the previous week in Sardinia, crews will have to take particular care out of the blocks.
“It’s a tricky stage but we kind of know what to expect, but on the second pass there will be more of a question mark over what to expect with the conditions,” said Ogier.
“It looks very different to the rest of the rally and it’s a difficult way to start the rally.
“The stage is extremely narrow, honestly, I’m not sure we have seen stages so narrow recently, or ever. It’s definitely easy to take off a wheel in this special stage.
So, the surprises might come early in this rally.”
Both Ogier and Neuville fell victim to punctures on the first stage of day three in Turkey – earmarked as a crucial test – with each driver missing out on a chance of victory as a result.
Neuville reckons it will be “challenging” to come through the first stage of Rally Sardinia unscathed, with visibility limited.
“I think the biggest challenge for us is going to be the visibility out of the car because we sit quite far back, with a very small field of vision,” Neuville added.
“Already in the recce it was tough to see all the stones hidden in the ground, but in a rally car it’s going to be really challenging to keep the car in the right line.”
Tempio is repeated later on Friday afternoon for SS3, and Ogier’s team-mate Kalle Rovanperä reckons the condition of the road will also be a factor on the second pass.
“[Because] it’s a new stage and it looks like it has been just made, it’s going to be quite soft,” Rovanperä explained.
“So, in stage one, the second loop will be quite demanding. It’s a really tricky stage, quite narrow and slow, and it’s going to be quite soft.”