As the season hits the halfway stage, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT has entered a new line-up in Sardinia. The Citroën C3 WRCs will be driven by Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle, Craig Breen/Scott Martin and Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jæger. Following rounds in Argentina and Portugal, the WRC visits another country where rallying is practically a religion. On the WRC calendar, the legendary Rallye Sanremo was replaced by Rally Italia Sardegna in 2004. The competitors were introduced to road surfaces and conditions that were very different to those on the Italian Riviera.
On the Mediterranean island, the stages are incredibly demanding, for the drivers, cars and tyres alike. The narrow and twisty gravel roads are surrounded by thick vegetation, hiding the large rocks that the drivers are well advised to avoid hitting with their wheels. As the ground is invariably covered with a thick layer of sand and dust, the running order tends to be of critical importance on the first pass on the stages. The challenge is different again on the second run: the drivers have to cope with ruts that become deeper as more cars complete, as well as the bedrocks that can become exposed… almost anywhere! Bearing in mind that temperatures may approach 30°C during the weekend, it is easy to see why many crews are apprehensive about this seventh round.
The rally is due to kick off on Thursday evening, with the ceremonial start in Alghero and a 2km-long super special stage. The cars then cross the island, from the west to the east coast, stopping in Olbia for the night. Following this transfer, the crews will tackle the daunting stages of Terranova and Monte Olia on Friday. Saturday features the fullest programme, including the long Monti di Ala’ and Monte Lerno speed tests. This final stage includes the famous Micky’s Jump, a popular meeting point for the Italian rally fans and one of the event’s highlights! Contested without a service break, Sunday’s final leg is something of a sprint finish, with just four short stages.
Officially announced just after Rally de Portugal, the arrival of Andreas Mikkelsen and Anders Jæger in the team has undoubtedly been the most talked-about developments ahead of the rally. Despite being short of running time in the C3 WRC, the Norwegian will be able to make the most of his experience at the event and an excellent starting position for the opening leg.
Speaking about the event Craig said, “Like Argentina and Portugal, pretty much all of this rally is going to be new to us. I did recce in 2016 and we did some testing in Sardinia a few weeks ago, but that’s still not very much compared with the guys who have been competing at this event for several years. To try and compensate, I have prepared meticulously for this rally. For example, viewing on-board footage has helped us to spot the largest pitfalls and trickiest sections. After a series of fifth places, I’d be delighted to get the same result in Sardinia, before tackling more familiar events such as Poland or Finland. I’d like to say welcome to Andreas; we don’t know each other very well at the moment, but I’m looking forward to working with him!”