Kalle Rovanpera is chasing a fourth consecutive WRC victory on this weekend’s Rally Italy Sardinia, June 2-5, as his Toyota Gazoo Racing squad bids for back-to-back wins on the fast, rough and hot gravel stages of the Mediterranean island event.
The 21-year-old Finn (main image) heads to the FIA World Rally Championship’s fifth round carrying huge momentum and confidence after taking wins on the snow of Sweden, the asphalt of Croatia and the gravel of Portugal in his GR Yaris Rally1. He already holds a hefty 46-point advantage in the WRC standings as the series approaches its halfway point.
While Rovanpera doesn’t have great memories of the Italian island due to retirements in the previous two years, his Toyota teammate Sebastien Ogier – who is absent this weekend preparing to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans – won last season’s edition.
But making Rovanpera’s task less than straightforward, the championship leader will be first car on the stages on Friday, plowing a line through loose gravel which will become progressively cleaner and grippier with the passage of each car.
“Sardinia will be another tough rally,” says Rovanpera. “The stages there have been tricky for me in the past, but last year I had a better feeling, even though we had some issues during the weekend.
“If the conditions are hot and dry like normal, I think it could be more difficult for us to fight for the win from first on the road than in Portugal, but the target will be the same: to do the best job we can.
“We go there knowing that we have a good base with the car on gravel, and although we need to focus on making it even better, we are already in a good place.”
One man who won’t be worrying about sweeping the road is Hyundai Motorsport’s Dani Sordo. He’s sharing the team’s third i20 N Rally1 car with Oliver Solberg this season and starts eighth in the running order this weekend.
Sordo (below) has made his name as a Sardinia master, claiming back-to-back victories in 2019 and 2020. After finishing on the podium on his season debut last time out in Portugal, he’s getting to grips with the new-for-2022 Rally1 hybrid machinery and could be a contender once again.
The Spaniard is joined by Thierry Neuville, currently second in WRC points, as well as 2019 WRC champ Ott Tanak in a three-pronged Hyundai factory attack.
Hyundai is yet to win in the WRC’s new-for-2022 hybrid era, but both Neuville and Tanak have scored second-place finishes. Add in Sordo’s Sardinian prowess, and maybe this is the weekend for the breakthrough? Getting things off to a positive start, Neuville topped the times in the pre-event Shakedown, the Belgian edging the Toyotas of Elfyn Evans and Esapekka Lappi by 0.3s and 0.5s, respectively, on the 2.19-mile test stage.
Evans needs another strong result to continue getting his season back on track. The Welshman is only fifth in points after going off the road on the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally and in Sweden, although he recovered to take second at Rally Portugal last month. Starting four places behind Toyota teammate Rovanpera, with the cleaner road conditions that will bring, Evans could be the driver setting the Leg One pace.
Lappi replaces Ogier in Toyota’s third factory GR Yaris, while development driver Takamoto Katsuta will pilot a similar machine less than two weeks after Sordo denied him a podium result in Portugal.
M-Sport Ford fields a four-strong, hybrid-powered Puma Rally1 fleet led by Craig Breen (above), who sits sixth in the WRC drivers’ standings. Young chargers Gus Greensmith, Adrien Fourmaux and Pierre-Louis Loubet are each aiming for their first WRC podiums – a target made more attainable if they keep it on the road and avoid mistakes through the opening leg.
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, reigning champ Andreas Mikkelsen is looking to regain the 2022 points lead after an engine issue for his Toksport Skoda Fabia Evo ended his class-leading opening leg in Portugal. France’s Yohan Rossel (below) is the new points leader, having now matched Mikkelsen for wins – two apiece – in his PH Sport Citroen C3.
But for either driver to make it a third WRC2 win, they’ll need to beat a stacked field that includes Hyundai’s Teemu Suninen (who led Portugal until an error on the event’s final stage), Citroen’s Eric Camilli and three more rapid Toksport-run Skodas in WRC2 Junior leader Chris Ingram, Nikolay Gryazin and Bruno Bulacia.
The rally base has switched back across the island to the west coast town of Alghero after spending 2021 in Olbia, although the fast and narrow roads – many lined with trees and bushes – will be familiar.
After a single 2-mile stage on Thursday evening, the serious action starts Friday, with eight special stages and 83 competitive miles. Eight more stages on Saturday and four on Sunday, including the bonus points-paying Wolf Power Stage to close the event, bring the total competitive distance to 191.33 miles.
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