Rally Italy is a big one; quite literally. Not only is it the start of the World Rally Championship season’s crescendo – with just one further round remaining in Belgium after Italy – but it has also attracted the biggest entry of any event since the WRC has restarted after the global lockdown.
A lot of that is courtesy of the WRC’s support classes with a stellar entry across WRC2, WRC3 and Junior WRC. Here’s a reminder as to who’s competing and how it all stands ahead of Sardinia.
Mads Østberg’s WRC2 lead was overturned for the first time all season on Rally Turkey as Pontus Tidemand scored his second victory of the year in a Toksport Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo. Tidemand – 2017 WRC2 champion – now heads Østberg by five points with Adrien Fourmaux 14 points back in third after an impressive couple of rallies.
Østberg would appear the favorite for Italy though, given he is yet to be beaten this season when he’s competed. But Tidemand’s consistency and Fourmaux’s upturn in pace in M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta Rally2 should give Østberg cause for concern.
Eyvind Brynildsen and the two Hyundai drivers can’t be ruled out either. Both Nikolay Gryazin and Ole Christian Veiby haven’t quite had the rub of the green this season but are both more than capable of fighting for a podium, if not the win. And while their 29 and 47 respective points deficits make the title unrealistic, they could very well have a say in who becomes the 2020 champion by stealing points away from others.
Current WRC2 standings:
1 Tidemand (Škoda) 80pts
2 Østberg (Citroën) 75pts
3 Fourmaux (M-Sport Ford) 66pts
4 Gryazin (Hyundai) 51pts
5 Veiby (Hyundai) 33pts
The WRC2 title battle is close, but it’s got nothing on the squabble in WRC3. Any one of five drivers could justifiably claim they’re still in with a shot – and they’re all competing together for the first time this weekend.
In fact, the entire top seven in the championship will be in action making this a truly mouth-watering contest. In total, 16 Rally2s will take the start in WRC3 in Sardinia.
Marco Bulacia, Jari Huttunen and Kajetan Kajetanowicz are the highest-scoring drivers thus far, and are joined by Oliver Solberg and Eric Camilli as the five winners from the five rounds completed in 2020. It’s Camilli’s – who won his first-ever WRC stage in Sardinia in 2016 – first appearance since his win on Monte Carlo, yet he’s still sixth in the championship, just behind Nicolas Ciamin.
Picking a winner is nigh-on impossible. Huttunen would look like a safe bet given his sensational form in 2020 capped off by winning the Polish national title last weekend, but then the same could be said of Oliver Solberg.
Like Huttunen, he was in action last weekend on the ERC’s Rally Fafe Montelongo – albeit with slightly less success. Armed with a Škoda instead of a Volkswagen for just the second time in competition, the teenager is expected to fly.
Bulacia and Kajetanowicz are perhaps the lesser-known threats, but no less potent. Bulacia has been a model of consistency but that’s not to demean his speed – his two podiums from three perfect proof – while Kajetanowicz proved he can master the rougher rallies with victory in Turkey last time out.
Junior WRC graduates Jan Solans and Sean Johnston are genuine dark horses for a top five or perhaps more given their strong pace in Turkey, while Umberto Scandola’s Hyundai i20 R5 is likely to feature as a rapid local driver.
Current WRC3 standings:
1 Bulacia (Citroën) 55pts
2 Huttunen (Hyundai) 43pts
3 Kajetanowicz (Škoda) 37pts
4 Solberg (VW/Škoda) 35pts
5 Ciamin (Citroën) 26pts
Tom Kristensson was the clear title favorite heading into the 2020 season having chased the aforementioned Solans hard last year, despite it being his first term in the category. Now with the experience of the cars and the rallies, he was the hot tip and backed that up with a win at home in Sweden.
But Estonia has put him on the back foot – a crankshaft failure ruling him out of the contest. Old Opel team-mate in the ERC Mārtiņš Sesks was there to pick up the pieces and led home Finn Sami Pajari both in the rally and the championship standings after round two.
The Junior WRC wasn’t present in Turkey but now faces the same final two rounds in Italy and Belgium as the rest of the WRC, and it’s all still very much to play for but it’s Sesks, Pajari and Kristensson that look to be the main protagonists.
Ruairi Bell will benefit from the more familiar voice of Darren Garrod back in his ears in Sardinia after competing with British Rally Champion Matt Edwards in Estonia. But that fourth-place finish in Estonia was Bell’s best to date, and leaves him perfectly placed to spring a surprise this weekend.
Current Junior WRC standings:
1 Sesks 47pts
2 Pajari 39pts
3 Kristensson 29pts
4 Bell 18pts
5 Torn 18pts