The first major international rally since the global coronavirus pandemic, the European Rally Championship’s Rally di Roma, will be heavily influenced by punctures according to one of the victory favorites.
A revised 2020 itinerary for the rally has cut out the Ostia spectator stage which typically concludes the event, and includes a third loop of Sunday’s three stages.
Andrea Crugnola – who won 13 out of 16 stages on last year’s rally but only finished third due to a puncture – expects that extra pass to make punctures even more prevalent than usual.
“It will be difficult and maybe we will have more problems compared to last year’s race,” said Crugnola.
“It will be tough and you have to be lucky. Even if you stay on the line, maybe the car in front of you cuts a little bit more and moves a rock.
“The qualifying stage will be very important, especially for the first pass and because some World Rally Cars will run the stage before us.
“Even maybe if you start as the first R5 of the ERC maybe you can already find some dirt on the road.”
On last year’s event Crugnola lost over two minutes on the Pico-Greci stage, stopping to change a puncture that sent him out of the top 10.
Crugnola then rapidly clawed back time and fell only a minute short of rally winner Giandomenico Basso at the finish.
The abrasive asphalt surface of the roads in host region Lazio is expected to play a big part in the final result, with several drivers retiring last year due to double punctures leaving them out of usable spares mid-loop.
“It’s the most demanding [rally of my season], especially the Pico stage,” said Crugnola.
“It will be a gamble like every year because of the punctures and a lot of rocks will appear during the race because everybody is cutting and you never know.
“Also, [on] the other stages you need to be very focused not to make a mistake.
“The level of the grip is quite good but sometimes, like in Pico, you already know about the dirt because of the cuts.
“Sometimes you cannot drive always 100%, you have to be very calm at times.”
Crugnola also confirmed this would be his only ERC outing of 2020, with his focus on the Italian championship after losing factory backing from Citroën Italia due to the ongoing pandemic.
Crugnola’s absolutely right. Speed will only get you so far on Rally di Roma.
Punctures are an inevitability on this event; whether that’s from wearing the tires down to nothing in the blistering heat, hitting a rock that’s been dragged onto the racing line, or even taking a cut and slicing the tire open on the edge of the road surface.
It doesn’t seem to matter which tire manufacturer you’re with either: last year, whether you were on Michelins, Pirellis or Yokohamas, there was no guarantee you’d make a full loop without needing to change a tire due to a puncture.
Going with only one spare, or none at all, is a bigger risk here than most asphalt events. It’s tempting to dub Rally di Roma the ‘Asphalt Acropolis’ due to how quickly it chews through tires every year.
Expect the leaderboard to change on almost every stage from Saturday morning to Sunday evening. This rally rarely reaches the final stage without a prime position in the top five still being up for grabs.