With hindsight, three asphalt rallies in a month was too much. Running Sanremo, Tour de Corse and Spain in four weekends was, possibly, an asphalt overdose in 2003.
David Richards – and his firm International Sportsworld Communicators – certainly thought so. Such was the level of tire and transmission technology, the 2003 flavor World Rally Car wasn’t really one for breaking traction. Black lines from apex-to-exit four-wheel drifts had become a thing of the past.
The only time these cars came into shot with any angle on them was when it was raining. And when it was raining in Sanremo, it was usually foggy. And when it was foggy, you couldn’t really see the cars. That was the thinking from the television types.
More gravel was the answer – even in a championship which was already set to grow from 14 to 16 rounds. And, unfortunately for rally fans in northern Italy, that didn’t involve a full-time move back to Tuscany. Instead, it meant a chunk of tourism cash from Sardinia – the level of which couldn’t be matched on the mainland – and the rally jumping ship from Sanremo to Olbia.
Another accusation levelled at Sanremo was that it sat too close geographically to the Monte Carlo Rally in the French Alps.
When a cash-strapped Hyundai team arrived at the 2003 season opener with the car running the same set-up it finished the previous year’s Sanremo with, it wasn’t easy to argue against the events being of similar nature.
But the geography question didn’t really hold when Sardinia sits just seven miles across the Strait of Bonifacio from Corsica, the then home of France’s round of the World Rally Championship.
Spectator numbers were a perennial problem in Sanremo and trying to contain them on narrow mountain roads with limited access points into the stages was problematic. Moving the event to the Italian island cured that problem for the first few years. Nobody went.
Harri Rovanperä entered Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda Rally in 2003, driving a Grifone-run Peugeot 206 WRC on the Olbia-based event. The knowledge gleaned stood Peugeot in good stead when the WRC landed on the island 12 months later.
The WRC might have taken a while to settle on Sardinia, but it’s there now. The move from Olbia to Alghero helped, offering a slightly less industrial backdrop. But still, there are plenty who rue the day the series left Sanremo, where it had sat since the inception of the world championship in 1973.