Shakedown, starting ceremony and SSS1 Ittiri Arena Show are the first main events of the seventh round of the World Rally Championship on Thursday. Ogier and Neuville battle awaits, but many are the drivers who aim to win. Andolfi drives a WRC2 car for the first time in the Italian race after his debut in the series in Portugal

Rally Italia Sardegna, whose 2017 edition is the seventh round of the World Rally Championship, is ready to host the fight between the best drivers in the world in all four world titles;WRC, WRC2, WRC3 e Junior WRC. From Thursday morning strong emotions will immediately rise thanks to the shakedown that will take place from 8:00hrs between Olmedo and Monte Baranta. Based in Alghero, north-east of Sardinia, the rally will start at 17:00hrs in the Harbour Area of the city. The first competitive action is one hour later thanks to SSS1 “Ittiri Arena Show”, where battle will start on a 2km stage with two crews against each other at the same time. Then cars will reach Olbia overnight. Among Italians, ACI Team Italia driver Fabio Andolfi and his co-driver Manuel Fenoli will drive a WRC2 car (a Hyundai i20 R5) for the first time in their home championship round after debuting in Portugal three weeks ago.

After winning two rounds each, Sébastien Ogier (M-Sport Ford Fiesta Wrc) and Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20 Coupe Wrc) are the main protagonists of the first part of the season and so they are in search of important points in the Italian round of WRC. Opening the roads of the first leg could be a handicap for the reigning world champion and the Belgian driver, who is the winner of last year’s edition of Rally Italia Sardegna, and many rivals aim to take advantage from that. Among them, Rally Sweden winner Jari-Matti Latvala, the Finn official Toyota Gazoo Racing driver of the Yaris Wrc, and Kris Meeke, the British official Citroen C3 Wrc driver and Rally Mexico winner. Remaining in the Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, the Italian event will mark the debut of Andreas Mikkelsen on a Wrc Plus car, while Esapekka Lappi will be back on Toyota Yaris Wrc after his positive debut in Portugal. Lights will be also on Ott Tanak and Elfyn Evans, Ogier’s teammate at M-Sport World Rally Team, and on Hyundai Motorsport drivers Dani Sordo and Hayden Paddon.

What drivers said on Wednesday after the Recce.

Jari-Matti Latvala: “The feeling is ok. Some stages are in a very good condition. A little bit of rocks, in some places you must be careful with the cuts. I am happy with what I have seen. Yes, Monte Olia feels very difficult because it is very early on the rally, it is difficult to get the rythm on the stage. It is challenging but I’ll try to concentrate one hundred and ten percent for this stage. Normally the second day is the most important, when you have Monte Lerno and Monti di Alà, for sure these are the most important stages. This year Monte Lerno is a bit shorter, but you still see some differences, like Monti di Alà, where last year Thierry Neuville was fastest by ten seconds. Starting third, it is going to be quite tough to win here. If I could reach a podium, I would be quite happy with that”.

Sebastien Ogier: “Everything is good after the recce. I think we will have a good week here as always. It’s a very important part of the rally, the stages are great, some sections are rough as always, here it is always a mix between pushing and save the car. Every day is important and there are always difficulties. On the second stage Monti di Alà is very demanding, first time we are doing it this way. My target is to fight as highest as possible and score good points for the championship”.

Thierry Neuville: “Very good but it is not easy, specially because I start early on the roads. It is a new challenge for me. Winning is going to be difficult, but I said the same thing in Portugal and in Argentina and I was able to reach the podium. So I can say to myself that everything is possible. The most difficult part are the long stages on Saturday that are very technical and very complicated, but even more the two new stages on Friday morning. My aim is a possible podium and finish before Ogier”.

Esapekka Lappi: “I am more than ready, really looking forward. The recce was good, the stages are looking ok, some of them are a little bit soft, specially the Power Stage. It is going to be an awesome weekend for sure. I have been in Sardinia two times and with WRC2 I was always retiring. Monte Lerno is a bit shorter now, it is a bit different some variation, for me it has been always a nice stage, it has a bit of everything inside, specially the narrow parts. There is no room to make a mistake, immediately you will hit and brake something. My target is to improve for sure, this is a rally where is more to survive than to speed. It’s a good strategy to go a bit more slowly, safer and try to go to the finish with no problems and the result will be good”.

Andreas Mikkelsen: “It is a dream, but it’s not a dream, it’s reality! Which feels very nice. I had only one test with the car so it is too early to try to fight with the top guns. We will see on the weekend, hopefully we will show a good progression and at the end of it we can fight for single stage results, a top-five could be a realistic aim. I think that the second day is going to be the most difficult, but beautiful stages and very rough this year. It will be tough for the cars and to make the tires last as well”.

Itinerary.

Friday’s itinerary features a double transit on four stages for a total of 125.46 competitive kilometres. The loop marks the return of Terranova (14.54km) and Monte Olia (19.05km) and, as last year, Tula (15km) and Tergu-Osilo (14.14km) before heading back to service in Alghero. Cars will repeat the same loop in the afternoon and overnight in Alghero.

Saturday’s leg, the second and the longest one of the rally, is 143.16km long and divided over six well-known challenges in the Monte Acuto region. A morning loop of Coiluna-Loelle (14.95km), Monti di Alà (28.52km) and the nearby very demanding Monte Lerno (28.11km including the famous Micky’s Jump) will be repeated in the afternoon after regroup and a 30-minute service in Alghero.

Final day features two repeated stages covering 42.04km amid stunning scenery on the coast, north of the host town. Cala Flumini (14.06km) and Sassari-Argentiera (6.96km) will be run twice with the second pass of Sassari-Argentiera that will count as the live TV Power Stage. In total, the itinerary features 1496,37 kilometres with 19 stages and 312.66km kilometres against time.