No fewer than seven Suzuki Ignis Super 1600 cars have taken the ceremonial start of the Rally d'Italia-Sardinia this evening, round three of the Junior World Rally Championship. The crews crossed the start ramp at the millionaire's resort of Porto Rotondo in front of thousands of excited Italian fans, before three days of flat-out gravel action over 17 stages and 350 kilometres.

Englishman Guy Wilks currently leads the Junior World Rally Championship, followed by his team mate P-G Andersson. The other Suzuki entries in Sardinia are Kosti Katajamaki and Urmo Aava, both run by Suzuki Sport Europe, plus Alan Scorcioni and Pavel Valousek, both run by Czech team JM Engineering. The final Ignis is driven by Martin Prokop, run by Jipocar.

Sardinia is characterised by medium to fast stages, using soft gravel roads that were recently widened in order to make them faster and more flowing. The event incorporates a wide variety of corners, and contains stages high up in the mountains as well as some flatter roads closer to the coast. Central service is on the harbour side in Olbia, and while weather conditions are expected to be generally warm rain is always a possibility at this time of year.

Before heading up the ceremonial start in the evening the drivers completed the pre-event shakedown: a short stage designed as a last-minute opportunity to check settings and fine-tune the set-up. None of the drivers reported any problems over the four-kilometre test near Olbia.

P-G Andersson, the reigning Junior World Rally Champion who won in Sardinia last year, said: "I'm really looking forward to the rally and the car feels on top form. We had a good result in New Zealand three weeks ago and this gives me a lot of confidence for fast gravel events. These are the types of road I like best, so my aim will be to get the job done here once more. But of course we face a lot of stiff opposition, so it won't be easy."

Guy Wilks, in the current lead of the championship, reported: "For the first time since Monte Carlo in January, we're back on territory that is vaguely familiar. I had a good feeling with the stages here in Sardinia last year, so I'm feeling optimistic. Everybody knows how good the car is on this surface, so now it's down to the drivers!"

The Team director Risto Laine: "The shakedown, as we expected, was routine: the real preparation for any rally is done months before. We're confident that we've all done our jobs to the best of our abilities but this is going to be the most challenging rally of the year for us. For the first time since Monte Carlo, we face a full field of our rivals. We're not underestimating how hard they will push us, particularly as several of the cars have undergone new development. A lot is at stake."

The real action on the Rally d'Italia-Sardinia starts on Friday morning at 08:53 (CET), with the first of 17 special stages. The finish takes place on Sunday at 14:30 (CET) back in Porto Rotondo.

Published : 30/04/05 Author : Melanie Carter

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