The thinking behind Sardinia’s new route

Italy will be the first event to take advantage of the format changes made possible by the FIA’s WRC Working Group

Dani Sordo

Somewhat out of the blue, Rally Italy Sardinia dropped a bit of a bombshell.

Its Rally Guide 1 document landed, standard procedure where a rally’s route is revealed for the first time. All very predictable. It’s Alghero’s turn this year (as part of its rotation with Olbia), the stages all looked fairly familiar. Sunrise and sunset times… nothing to report there.

And then, this happened: “The adventure of the Rally Italia Sardegna will continue this year with a compact route based on the new FIA guidelines from 2025, with the entire race condensed in just 48 hours.”

Yes. The revolution – or perhaps merely evolution – sparked by the FIA’s WRC Working Group begins here. Format tweaks are arriving; the traditional ‘cloverleaf’ structure of the last decade and a bit, made up of three stages run twice with service in the middle, is finally getting a bit of a revamp.

Format changes are ultimately signed off and implemented by the government body of rallying, the FIA. But the stakeholders, the WRC Promoter included, are keen to see change.

While we’re yet to see more detail on precise parameters on how far events can push format change, this is very much a start.

WRC Promoter’s Peter Thul explained the thinking to DirtFish: “The idea is to give some rallies in a more compact format, and this is a result unanimously shared from the manufacturers, from the event organizers who want to do it, and from… I say the majority – nearly every driver likes it.

“We made a proposal which was agreed by the WRC Commission and forwarded for approval to the second-last World Motorsport Council, and we understand it was rejected because they want to have a further look, be prepared, and take a decision later. We understand this is a topic the new WRC Working Group is also working on.

“That does not mean that we are going to do sprint rallies everywhere. That means that some events are allowed to run at less mileage and others even more. And this was rejected, but maybe this year will be a chance to do it on some events. We believe it’s a good thing.”

That first event, it transpires, is Sardinia.

WRC Promoter’s event director Simon Larkin added: “If we have a half-day Friday, which is in a sprint event the idea, we were in the morning shakedown, scrutineering, everything. Do a half-day Friday, do the full Saturday and do, as we currently have, a half-day Sunday, you end up with 250km.

“I think we agree with the FIA. If an event thinks it can run to an interesting format, make them apply for it. It doesn’t have to be regulatory, just have an approval system.”


Drivers are in favor of the condensed format, according to the WRC Promoter’s Peter Thul

That format shifts most aspects of the rally to be slightly later. Recce begins on Wednesday morning and doesn’t finish until Thursday lunchtime. The ceremonial start is the night before the rally, not squeezed in between shakedown and the start of the first stage.

But there’s a limit. The format changes in Sardinia are more tinkering with what’s already there, rather than reinventing the wheel. Covid-19 forced events to go radical in making WRC events viable to deal with restrictions; this doesn’t go as far.

But Larkin is convinced it’s still a sufficiently different format that it’ll feel fresh: “I think we’ll see that in Sardinia this year. A more condensed but still action-packed couple of days.”

It is, as the Sardinia organisers highlighted, a “48-hour itinerary.” But those 48 hours take place over three days and two nights. Ypres, during its brief stint on the world stage, did shoehorn itself into a typical WRC format – but the real Ypres, the one the Belgian championship gets, isn’t like that. It begins on Friday morning and ends on Saturday night. From start to finish in two days.


2024 marks the 21st running of Rally Italy Sardinia

That sort of approach isn’t viable for the WRC, insists Larkin: “Ypres is unique because the roads are right there. It’s the most compact event that’s ever happened in the World Rally Championship. You can’t do that everywhere.”

There are also commercial considerations for why the structure being debuted by Sardinia is more evolution than revolution – and why an Ypres model is a no-go. Someone’s got to pay for rallies: in the case of Italy’s round, Sardinia’s tourism board coughs up plenty of dough to have the rally on its island, one the country’s biggest holiday hotspots.

“You cut a day out of a rally, for some events that’s catastrophic for their business model of delivering 50 million, 60 million, whatever, heads in beds,” added Larkin. “So we don’t want to take a cookie-cutter approach.”