TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team will take on one of the toughest challenges of the season at Rally Italia Sardegna on June 1-4, looking to maintain its recent strong momentum.
The team has won four out of five rallies contested so far in 2023 with the GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID, and leads the manufacturers’ championship by 32 points. After taking his first win of the year last time out in Portugal, defending champion Kalle Rovanperä tops the drivers’ standings by 17 points, with Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans tied on points in third place: Ogier resumes his part-season programme on an event he has won four times before, with Takamoto Katsuta also entered in a fourth car supported by the TGR WRC Challenge Program.
The stages on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia have a reputation as being among the most testing gravel tracks in the entire championship. They are fairly fast but often narrow and lined with bushes, trees and rocks, leaving little margin for error. The sandy surface is swept away by each passing car to expose the rocky and abrasive base: this can combine with temperatures in excess of 30 degrees centigrade to punish cars and tyres.
For this year, the service park moves back from Alghero to Olbia on the island’s northeast coast and the city’s mixed-surface super special stage will again begin the rally on Thursday evening. Friday’s route is headlined by the famous Monte Lerno stage which has more than doubled in length to 49.9 kilometres. This is preceded by two shorter stages – Tantariles (last run in 2004) and Terranova – to form a loop of three tests to be repeated after midday service in Olbia. Saturday is almost as long in terms of competitive distance with four stages run twice, while Sunday’s route is the same as in 2021 with a pair of repeated stages on the island’s northernmost tip.
Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal)
“We are excited to see how we perform in Sardinia. Last year this event was a bit of a struggle but since then we have made many improvements to the GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID for rough gravel conditions, which have worked well in Mexico and in Portugal. Normally, Sardinia is hotter than Portugal, and this year on Friday the Monte Lerno stage will be almost 50 kilometres in length; it hasn’t been that long since 2014, and on the second pass especially I am sure tyre management will play a major role. It means Kalle could pay a big penalty for needing to open the road on this event, but we will have Sébastien and Elfyn in better positions and hopefully they have the opportunity to challenge for victory. It will also be interesting to see how Takamoto goes after a good performance in Portugal.”
Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69)
“Portugal was a great weekend for us and it was nice to get a victory again. We will try to continue like this in the next events but we know that Sardinia will be a much more difficult job. Of all the rallies in the calendar, I think this one has maybe been the trickiest for me, and if the weather is dry and hot like it usually is in Sardinia, it can be very difficult to be the first car on the road there; perhaps even more so this year with the 50-kilometre stage to be driven on Friday. It will be a demanding weekend but, like always, we will push together with the team to get the best result that we can.”
Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33)
“Portugal was a disappointing weekend on my side but we have to put that behind us now, move forward to Sardinia and see what’s possible there. Our road position will be more favourable than what we started with on the last rally, but we know that it’s a challenging event regardless and one of the rougher rallies of the year. It definitely needs a smart approach but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless. Like always in Sardinia, they mix up the stages every year. A lot of the route is known from before but some of it has not been driven for many years, so there will be a lot of new pacenotes to write during the recce – and this very long stage on Friday will of course be key.”
Sébastien Ogier (Driver car 17)
“Sardinia is a rally that I have learned to love. At first, I used to struggle going there, but over the years I started to master it more and more. The most recent memories I have of Sardinia are really good from when we managed to win in 2021 after starting first on the road, which is not normally possible on this event. Having missed Portugal, we will have a bit of a better starting position this time, but it will still be a difficult challenge, especially with this very long stage of 50 kilometres that the organisers have made for this year. I quite like that challenge, honestly; it adds some spice to the rally and the need for tyre management. It will certainly be an interesting rally.”
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Rd.6 Rally Italia Sardegna
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