Crews limber up for a long, hot summer as the Mediterranean beckons
After the rigours of the Jordanian deserts, crews will have little respite from the heat as they head to the island of Sardinia, though at least the air will be less dry and more bearable. The sixth round of the World Rally Championship represents a return to Europe after a string of three long-haul events in a row.

Itself the first of a back-to-back trio of European events, it heralds the start of the most demanding section of the season with three events in just five weeks. The travel and intensified workload will punish drivers, cars and teams alike, and go a long way to setting the Championship scene for the remainder of the season.

Sardinia lies in the Mediterranean sea between Spain and Italy, just 12 kilometres from the coast of Corsica, itself the scene for a World Rally encounter later in the season. As per previous years, the rally is based in the northern tip of the island, in the industrial port of Olbia on the Costa Smeralda coast.

The soft and almost sandy gravel roads wind through a combination of unspoiled green mountainsides that contrast with the sometime dusty and rocky routes of the lower regions. The traction and braking stability of the cars will be really tested by the loose surfaces that can cause the cars to wander as the road beneath them shifts. Eighty per cent of the local area is hilly, and while more rolling than mountainous, the stages steadily undulate.

In the typically lush Italian hills, temperatures are expected to be upwards of 20 degrees Celsius, but routes can quickly become dampened by the ever-present chance of unexpected storms. The stages are very flowing and technical, meaning it is vital that crews get into a good rhythm from the outset in order to attack fully. Crews running first on the road will clean the loose surface to the benefit of those behind them, but as the roads deteriorate and become rutted by the second passes, it will actually favour the front-runners.

The event starts with a ceremonial start in the exclusive resort of Porto Cervo, 30 kilometres to the north of the service park, and consists of 17 stages stretching 354 competitive kilometres across the northern provinces of Olbia, Sassari and Nuoro. Whilst many of the planned routes are very similar to those used in previous years, there have been several significant changes to pit competitors against new challenges, namely that the third and final day is almost completely new.

The history of the island is evident in the numerous ancient ruins that the route will take the World Rally cars past. Abandoned castles, churches and strongholds all hint at the island’s medieval past and contribute to the collapsed carved stone structures and outcrops that typify this most varied of championship events.

The Subaru World Rally Team have entered two Impreza WRC2007s for Rally Sardinia. Petter Solberg / Phil Mills will drive car number five and Chris Atkinson / Stéphane Prévot will be in car number six.

Solberg and Mills won the event in 2004 and finished fifth last year. Atkinson has only competed in Sardinia three times before, and 2008 will be his second attempt alongside Prévot. The duo’s highest finish on the island is tenth.

Team quotes
David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal: “Sardinia presents a completely different challenge to the last round of the Championship in Jordan only two weeks ago. Our test team has been working extremely hard to resolve the problems that Petter encountered with his shock absorbers and I am confident we have made significant progress in this respect. Petter has won this event before so I am sure he goes into it with confidence and hoping that all our work has been worthwhile, enabling him to challenge strongly for a podium position.”

Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director: “This has traditionally been a tough rally, especially because the stages are so soft and the surface becomes badly deteriorated by the second passes. With the combination of the soft surface and rocks in and at the sides of the roads, it’ll be tough on tyres. This rally is all about reliability and consistency as all the stages are hard on the cars. The soft surface will present a very different challenge for the drivers and the setup of the car to the very hard roads we saw last in Jordan."

Driver quotes
Petter Solberg: “Sardinia is very tough as the surface is very soft and there are lots of ruts on the second passes. We’ve won there before, and I will go there pushing hard, but it is never an easy rally so we will just see. The team has been working hard since Jordan so I hope we will be able to go well there.”

Chris Atkinson: “It’s important to drive smoothly and without mistakes in Sardinia as the roads are very technical and narrow but it’s a rally I enjoy. It’s my fourth year here, and my second with Stéphane, so I hope we can have a good event and run competitively. I’m not thinking about another podium finish, but just concentrating on our pace and fighting as high up as we can.”

Between the rallies
After Jordan, the crews had their first familiarisation run aboard the all-new Impreza WRC2008 as part of the team’s testing strategy, which is progressing well. Further information will follow in the coming weeks.

After their familiarisation days, the drivers and co-drivers spent time at home, relaxing after the punishing heat of the desert and continuing their training and preparation as the WRC enters the busiest part of the season. Petter spent some time karting with his son Oliver, and Chris travelled the short distance to Monza, Italy for the fifth round of the World Superbike Championship.

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