Talk about a confidence rally and you would immediately pick out the scary-fast ones: Finland, Sweden and the like. Those are the events where you need to be certain-without-doubt the motor beneath you will comply when asked to turn into a corner at 100mph.
Sardinia commands confidence, just in a slightly different shape. The Italian island is among the slowest rallies on the calendar – last year’s Rally Finland was won at an average of 76mph, while Sardinian success came Dani Sordo’s way at an average of 51mph – but the crews are constantly threading the eye of a needle on the Alghero-based rally.
The roads which lay in wait for the WRC crews this week are generally quite narrow with plenty of hazards and pitfalls sitting just inches wide of the line. The slightest lack of precision probably won’t result in a spectacular, Urria-spec shunt (where Mikko Hirvonen’s Ford Focus looked like it’d been through a blender back in 2010), but a rock or a tree stump can comfortably knock a corner off or impart sufficient damage to rule a crew out of the race for victory.
“For Sardinia, you have to be so precise, all the time,” Jari-Matti Latvala told DirtFish.
And he knows. He cut a hairpin fractionally too tight last year and rolled out of the lead in what ranks among his softest and slowest crashes ever.
What you need as much as anything in Italy is patience. Patience with the pace and patience with the approach. Since the WRC first landed on the island in 2004, it’s run in October twice, but mainly it’s a late spring or early summer event. And June on a piece of rock north of Africa and south of Corsica is going to be hot. Very hot.
“You have to watch the tires,” added Latvala. “You need to be really careful to make sure you keep them [from wearing out] for the loop [of stages].”
And doing that means being slightly more progressive: brake earlier and for longer to avoid locking up and take it easier getting back on the throttle to avoid wheelspin – especially out of slower corners.
Tire wear is so high, Sardinia can be a window of opportunity for the Rally2 cars. With less power, the top WRC2 and WRC3 crews have the chance to take time out of their Rally1 rivals by keeping more of the rubber on the boots beneath them.
First on the road in Sardinia is usually always a nightmare. Usually, because the exception that makes the rule was 2018, when it poured with rain just before the start and made Thierry Neuville’s job slightly less daunting. That said, there was so much rain around, Hyundai’s Belgian was caught out by the flooded ruts.
But rain is not normal. Heat is. And, as well as keeping the cars cool, the teams are generally more focused than normal on keeping the crews hydrated and comfortable than on most other European events. Slower average speeds mean less airflow through the car, with cockpit temperatures regularly rising into the high 60s.
Sardinia does, of course, provide one exceptional place to consider airflow beneath the car. Micky’s Jump on the Monte Lerno stage has become one of the most iconic spots of the season. This is no Yellow House-style, 50-metre leap down the road in Ouninpohja. Nor is it remotely similar to Colin’s Crest in Vargåsen. Take anything like that approach to Micky’s Jump and you’re likely to end up in the sea. This one’s a very steep approach with a real kick into the air.
But it’s still a suspension-testing classic. And one we’d love to be lining up for you this week.
Again, don’t forget, Rally Italy’s only on pause right now. A return to an October date for the first time since 2012 would be very, very welcome this season.