The Rally d'Italia-Sardinia is round three of the Junior World Rally Championship, which is currently led by Suzuki Ignis driver Guy Wilks followed by his team mate P-G Andersson. The two Suzuki men will be looking to extend their advantage on the all-gravel event, but in the competitive environment of world rallying this is never an easy task.
Sardinia was new to the Junior World Rally Championship last season, but this year's event has a very different look to it. The rally is being held much earlier and the route has been substantially revised to make it faster, more open and even more spectacular for the thousands of passionate Italian fans.
The World Rally Championship is famed for its variety and Sardinia's roads offer yet another new surface: soft, almost sandy gravel. The rally contains a wide variety of speeds and corners, but good traction and an optimal suspension set-up is essential to deal with the loose gravel coming out of the many uphill bends. The weather is expected to be generally warm, but as always in spring rain showers are entirely possible.
Reigning Junior World Rally Champion P-G Andersson won in Sardinia last year, leading home a Suzuki one-two-three. The young Swede is naturally looking forward to returning to the scene of his triumph this year. "I really like Sardinia, but it will be basically like a new rally for everyone this time," he said. "I actually think that the improvements the organisers have made to the route should suit my driving style better, as I prefer faster and more flowing events to the sort of tight and twisty stages that we saw on bits of Sardinia last year."
Englishman Guy Wilks, who currently leads the Junior World Rally Championship, said: "I finished second in Sardinia last year, which enabled me to head for the final round of the championship with a good chance of winning the title. It's an event that suits me, and the Ignis is fantastically strong there as well - as our clean sweep of the podium last year shows. I won the last Junior World Championship rally in Mexico but in Sardinia there will be many more top quality rivals, so our task will be even harder."
Team Director Risto Laine commented: "To some extent Sardinia is another one of those rallies which has several unknown quantities for us - specifically regarding the route and the weather conditions. It's the first event since the start of the season in Monte Carlo where we face a full field of rivals, so we are not underestimating anything. It will be a very tough fight, particularly because many of our competitors will have improved their cars significantly since Monte Carlo. The Monte is a very individual event, but Sardinia is the first time that all the Junior crews will meet on a reasonably level playing field. I am expecting it to be our biggest challenge of the year so far."
In addition to the two Monster Sport Europe cars, Suzuki Sport Europe will run a pair of Ignis Super 1600 cars for Kosti Katajamaki and Urmo Aava - who also drove an Ignis last year. Czech team JM Engineering will also run two Ignis entries: for Italian Alan Scorcioni - contesting his home rally in Sardinia - and Czech Pavel Valousek. Finally, there will be another Ignis run by Czech team Jipocar for Martin Prokop.
The Rally d'Italia-Sardinia gets underway with a ceremonial start in Porto Cervo on Thursday 28 April at 2000 (CET). Crews then go on to tackle 17 special stages totalling 350 kilometres before the finish back in Porto Cervo on Sunday 1 May at 1530 (CET).Published 23 April 2005