It’s astonishing to think that this year’s Rally Italy on the island of Sardinia is actually the 19th running of the event.
Makes you feel old, doesn’t it?
Italy’s round of the World Rally Championship always used to be held in Sanremo – formerly an epic endurance event with legs on gravel and asphalt before becoming just a Tarmac rally down the years.
But in 2004 Sanremo was replaced by Sardinia which has been part of world rallying’s global tour every year since except 2010 when Juho Hänninen won in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
Although it originally ran in the fall and did revert to a similar date in other years (2012 and the COVID-affected 2020 season), Sardinia has always traditionally been an early summer rally where the temperatures are brutal and battles on the stages similarly hot.
But who have the most successful drivers been on the island in the WRC? Thanks to the wonderful resource that is eWRC-results, here’s a look at drivers that have conquered this island rally in the past, categorized in ascending order in terms of editions won.
1 victory (2004)
Petter Solberg didn’t just win the very first edition of Rally Italy in Sardinia back in 2004, he dominated it at a point his season really needed it.
The Subaru driver beat eventual world champion Sébastien Loeb by over two minutes in his Subaru Impreza WRC to complete a remarkable hattrick of victories after successes in Japan and Wales that succeeded that terrifying crash on Rally Germany.
Solberg was never outside the top three stage times all rally long and indeed led the rally from start to finish too.
Loeb would however return the favor a year later to edge Solberg who claimed further Sardinian podiums with third in 2009 and 2011.
1 victory (2007)
After two days of Rally Italy in 2007, Loeb and Marcus Grönholm were split by 36.5 seconds – Loeb’s Citroën heading Grönholm’s Ford.
But the first test on the final day gave Grönholm the break he needed to claim his first – and only – Italian victory in the WRC as Loeb went off and gave Grönholm a free run.
‘Bosse’ went on to convert that chance into a 29.2s victory over team-mate Mikko Hirvonen; his second of two podiums after a third place for Peugeot in 2005.
1 victory (2009)
There aren’t too many events the WRC’s most experienced campaigner hasn’t won, and Sardinia isn’t one of the rallies on that list.
Latvala’s Italian win came in 2009 in a result that’s often retrospectively recalled as a decision Ford team management should regret given Latvala beat his team-mate Hirvonen to the victory and an extra two championship points, and Hirvonen lost the title to Loeb by just one point.
But it can’t be forgotten that Sardinia followed Rally Poland that year, where Latvala had binned it on the final superspecial stage and cost Ford a formation finish. Speak to Malcolm Wilson and he’ll remind you of that – Latvala needed this win for his confidence.
Latvala would finish on the podium in Sardinia a further five times – notching up second place in both 2016 and ’17 as well as third place finishes in 2008, 2013 and ’14. He’s also won more stages on the island (49) than any other driver.
1 victory (2012)
Hirvonen might have missed out in 2009 but he did get his Sardinian victory in 2012, but it was a feeling of relief rather than pure joy that engulfed him when he crossed the line.
With Loeb out early and both the Fords of Latvala and Solberg exiting the contest soon after in what was a dramatic rally, Hirvonen’s DS3 WRC was the only factory car left after just seven stages – and was over a minute clear of his closest rival Evgeniy Novikov.
And after losing victory in Portugal for a technical infringement, Hirvonen kept his cool and finally earned himself a Citroën win – the first and only of his career.
Like Latvala, Hirvonen also has six Sardinia podiums on his CV and strung together an incredible run of five successive second places each time the WRC visited in 2006, ’07, ’08, ’09 and ’11.
1 victory (2017)
Sardinia holds mixed memories for Ott Tänak as the scene of his first WRC podium in 2012 and then victory in 2017 with M-Sport but also of two lost wins in 2019 when his Toyota’s steering jammed and 2021 when his Hyundai’s suspension failed.
It’s that breakthrough WRC win in a Fiesta WRC that Tänak would most like to remember though as he prepares for this year’s rally.
Tänak played the rally beautifully, slowly creeping up the leaderboard as his rivals began to flounder. A lowly eighth after three stages, Tänak climbed onto the podium after the first day and then into second when Thierry Neuville lost the brakes in his Hyundai.
Hayden Paddon then destroyed the rear-right corner of his i20 Coupe WRC to elevate Tänak into the lead; a position he’d protect over Latvala to the end despite a brief scare on the final day when he outbraked himself and was briefly in a hedge.
2 victories (2016 and 2018)
Thierry Neuville’s two Sardinian victories came in very different circumstances. The first, in 2016, was a controlled affair at a time when his career really needed it, while the second two years later was a swashbuckling effort that stunned the watching world.
Neuville had endured a tricky two years since his first win in 2014, but he rejuvenated his career momentum with his 2016 Rally Italy win. Benefitting by running seventh car on the road, Neuville moved into the lead after SS5, lost it on SS6 but regained it on SS7 and stayed there to record a 24.8s victory over Latvala’s Volkswagen Polo.
In 2018 Neuville was busy mounting a serious championship campaign against Sébastien Ogier and spent basically the entirety of Rally Italy hunting the then five-time champion down.
With two stages to go Neuville trailed by 1.3s, then it was 0.8s and the pressure was getting to Ogier and Julien Ingrassia who forgot their timecards after the penultimate stage before Tänak and Martin Järveoja helpde their friends out and brought them to them.
Drama-free, Neuville was awesome on the powerstage to earn an emphatic win despite the margin of victory standing at just 0.7s.
2 victories (2019 and 2020)
Sardinia has become a bit of a haven for Dani Sordo in the twilight of his WRC career, acting as a part-time rather than full-time driver for his Hyundai team.
In 2019, he had driven a superb event to run second overall, but it was a distant second to Tänak’s Toyota Yaris WRC which was firmly in charge of the event.
But Sordo’s famous “Tänak is stopped?” line to the stage-end reporter at the end of the powerstage broke the news that the rally win was set to be his. Sordo had lucked in – the steering jamming on Tänak’s car and dumping him all the way down to fifth place.
However, there would be no slice of fortune the following year where Sordo drove impeccably to double his Italian victory haul.
Superbly utilizing his low starting position on the first day, Sordo raced into a 17.4s lead and gamely held on as team-mate Neuville and Toyota’s Ogier began eroding the gap.
Sordo soaked up the pressure to win by just 5.1s. His other two podiums came in 2006 and ’07 for Citroën.
4 victories (2013, 2014, 2015 and 2021)
Arguably his greatest Sardinian achievement was winning a stage outright in a Super 2000 car, but it’s no real surprise to see Mr Ogier so high on this list, is it?
Ogier’s first Rally Italy win came en route to his maiden world title in 2013 – a success he repeated in 2014 and ’15 for Volkswagen.
The 2015 win was perhaps the most noteworthy as for a good while it looked as if Ogier may be repelled by an inspired Paddon, but when Paddon spun and struggled to restart his engine Ogier eased past and then recorded a dominant three-minute victory when Paddon’s i20 developed a gearbox problem on the very next stage.
Ogier’s 2021 success was perhaps his best though as he claimed an unlikely victory, slowly climbing to the top to negate the clear disadvantage of running first on the road.
4 victories (2005, 2006, 2008 and 2011)
Tying with Ogier as the record winner in Sardinia is, of course, Loeb. But the nine-time champion can claim to have been more effective than Ogier given he won 50% of his Sardinian starts to Ogier’s 28.5%.
Loeb’s first success came in 2005 over Solberg before a dominant win a year later, boosted by the retirement of chief rival Grönholm who was halted by an oil leak.
His next win in 2008 was a far tighter affair as Loeb only prospered by 10.6s over Hirvonen while his margin of victory was similarly small in 2011; Loeb’s DS3 WRC edging Hirvonen’s Fiesta WRC by only 11.2s.
Loeb only graced the podium in Sardinia once when he didn’t win and that was on the WRC’s first visit to the Mediterranean island in 2004.